Autonomous Shuttles Are Key Part of Mobility Puzzle

Changes coming to the transportation space in the next few decades include not only AVs (autonomous vehicles), but also an overhaul of the transportation paradigm. One way the transportation paradigm may change is a shift toward ridesharing, and many companies are working round-the-clock to develop and deploy autonomous rideshare solutions that will usher in this new era. One lingering question, however, is what the downstream effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be on the transportation space as a whole. Will the pandemic slow down or even reverse the trend toward urbanization? Will it decelerate adoption trends for rideshare solutions?

With the help of technology, citizens and governments want to see fewer traffic fatalities, more efficient roadways, more responsive public transit options, and fewer carbon emissions into the atmosphere. Autonomous-vehicle technologies can check all the boxes on this wish list, and, in the near future, they most likely will. Research from MarketsandMarkets suggests the global market for semi-autonomous buses, in which humans maintain control of the vehicle with the help of assisting technologies, will reach 71,682 units by 2025, up from about 23,613 units in 2020, while the global market for autonomous buses will reach $791 million by 2030.

AV technologies will also enable last-mile solutions that have been a missing piece of the mobility puzzle. According to IDTechEx, the market size for autonomous shuttles will exceed $18 billion by 2040. The firm says these vehicles often have key traits like a small footprint, the ability to travel in multiple directions (i.e., forward, backward, and even sideways), a top max speed, and zero emissions. Several trials of autonomous shuttles are underway in the U.S. in places like Columbus, Ohio, with its Linden LEAP program and globally in places like Gothenburg, Sweden, with Autonom Shuttle Evo vehicles.

AV tech and AV solutions continue to expand and evolve. Recently, Mobileye, an Intel company, Transdev ATS (Autonomous Transport System), and Lohr Group announced they plan to develop and deploy autonomous shuttles across the globe by integrating Mobileye self-driving tech into Lohr’s i-Cristal electric shuttles. The i-Cristal shuttles accommodate up to 16 passengers, offer an accessibility ramp, and can travel about 30 miles per hours (50 kilometers per hour). By integrating autonomous i-Cristal shuttles into Transdev’s existing mobility service networks, the companies say their partnership can improve the efficiency and convenience of mass transportation solutions—essentially making AV shuttles a daily reality. Testing will commence in France and Israel, with the goal of production-ready designs in 2022 and deployment by 2023.

The deployment and adoption rates for these technologies in the next several years will depend not only on innovative partnerships like this one but also on how the pandemic recovery goes. As of now, early in 2021, ridesharing options aren’t on the table for many Americans. No one knows how long social distancing will continue to be a factor in public life in the U.S., and no one knows for sure how a year of remote work has reformed the workplace. Will demand for rideshare options and last-mile solutions be as pressing in urban environments as they were pre-pandemic? COVID has probably slowed the adoption curve a little bit in the short term, but most likely, in the long term, autonomous shuttles will be as essential as they ever were to smart cities’ future transportation systems.

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