Optimus Ride marks its debut week of running New York City’s first test of a driverless shuttle, and it’s had no shortage of passengers.
Riders queued up at the stop sign along a yellow-colored pavement before stepping on to the squat black and yellow bus.
They were required to strap in for the 15 m.p.h. ride around Brooklyn Navy Yard, and didn’t witness any fireworks, no dazzling displays of technology on the 1.1 mile ride from Cumberland Gate to the ferry dock.
That seemed to suit riders just fine. Optimus has repeatedly said its focus is on safety, after a pedestrian was killed last year by an autonomous car operated by larger rival Uber Technologies. The technological innovation used to guide the vehicle has its roots in laboratories at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I think this is very interesting and the technology is very safe,” rider Izzy Sichurin said during the drive. “After Uber had its accident earlier, I think Optimus is showing they value safety.”
With a software operator on the passenger seat and a safety driver on the driver’s seat of each shuttle, the six shuttles gave free rides throughout the day. Optimus is planning to provide rides to 500 people per day
Boston-based Optimus is also running shuttles in its hometown. Shuttles drive using LIDAR technology, a combination of laser and radar mapping, to help the vehicle get a higher resolution input of the environment, which is different from other autonomous cars like Tesla which track using a camera-based system.
“I think we are going a long way. We are still developing, figuring out things,” Anto Kottuppaloio, the software operator told Karma. “So I think we are already there, entering the game. Our target is not to be the first to do anything, but to be the safest in doing it.”
Optimus has a road to travel to catch up with more established rivals, despite planting the flag first in New York City, one industry watcher said.
“They are taking baby steps, since I wouldn’t call it full autonomy yet,” Sergio Avedian, a Los Angeles driver coach and RideShare Guy contributor, told Karma. “Optimus Ride seems to be trying to replace amusement park or college campus shuttles that go back and forth with drivers. These tests provide more data of proof, which companies like Uber and Waymo have plenty of.”