Autonomous vehicles are being tested this week on low-volume roads in the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown as the initial phase of a pilot project scheduled to launch in Providence this spring.
Called the Little Roady Shuttle, each vehicle is fully electric and capable of carrying five passengers as well as an attendant who is trained how to operate the vehicle manually if needed.
The debut of the autonomous vehicles is the latest step in a multi-agency effort called the Rhode Island Transportation Innovation Partnership (TRIP), which RIDOT launched in 2017. TRIP also includes a research component, with the goal of studying autonomous mobility solutions, ridership, workforce impacts, environmental impacts, and technology adoption, among others.
The research being conducted in this pilot project will help the Department better understand the opportunities and challenges that come with integrating this new technology onto Rhode Island roads. The research will help improve transit and provide information for communities, the workforce, and policymakers.
The testing period in Quonset will be followed by similar testing in Providence, prior to the start of service. This includes testing of the vehicles and all their sensors, and a rigorous acceptance testing protocol in which the vehicles must pass several safety tests including adhering to lanes, avoiding obstacles, and safe operations in both daytime and nighttime conditions as well as in different types of adverse weather. Between the two locations, the fleet will undergo 500 miles of testing.
“Quonset is pleased to host this innovative transportation pilot as a test site,” said Steven King, Managing Director of the Quonset Development Corporation. “As home to many Rhode Island companies at the forefront of engineering and design, Quonset is excited to assist in the fielding of this cutting-edge technology to Rhode Island.
“Thanks to the Governor’s RhodeWorks program, we’ve made great strides in rebuilding our transportation system,” said Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) Director Peter Alviti Jr. “At the same time, we’re working on projects like the autonomous vehicle pilot project to make our transportation system better, and provide more mobility choices for our customer, the Rhode Island taxpayer.”
“You can imagine the new fields of off-shore wind, powering up off of Rhode Island. Electrons pouring into our grid, creating no pollution, filling up electric vehicles and having them go out onto our roads.” said United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (Democrat, Rhode Island). “There’s a lot to be said for that new infrastructure.
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“Under Governor Raimondo and Director Alvitti’s leadership, Rhode Island is leading the way with the Little Roady pilot program that will explore all aspects of autonomous vehicle technology in a responsible manner,” said United States Representative James Langevin (Democrat, Rhode Island). “I am proud to be a part of this exciting day, and I will continue to support RIDOT and secure federal resources for innovative transportation solutions for Rhode Island.”
“This project gives us the opportunity to gain first-hand experience with this new technology and that information will be invaluable when we look ahead to the impact that autonomous vehicles will have on public transportation in the future,” said Scott Avedisian, CEO of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA). “Having some of our bus operators ride the shuttle routes is also going to allow them to share important feedback on the role of on-board personnel and passenger needs.”
“Every time we expand to a new city, it allows us to learn something new. Partnering with RIDOT, we are more closely integrated with existing rail and other services than ever before,” said May Mobility CEO Edwin Olson. “We’re fanatical about solving real-world transportation problems, and with this new route, we’ll show how our self-driving technology can have a positive impact for the citizens of Rhode Island. Not someday, but today.”
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