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Autonomous Vehicles, New Mobility & the Built Environment

A Mobility on Demand Service Designed for All People

Imagine a mobility service that offers on-demand, door-to-door capability for all citizens, regardless of physical ability. Gary Miksell, Chief Innovation/Technical Officer of VTA, Silicon Valley’s transit and congestion agency, has been imagining that scenario and has begun putting the pieces in place to test such an approach in a real-world setting at the campus of the Veteran’s Hospital in Palo Alto.  Gary Miskell, Chief Innovation/Technical Officer of VTA, Silicon Valley’s transit and congestion agency, has been imagining that scenario and has begun putting the pieces in place to test such an approach in a real-world setting at the campus of the Veteran’s Hospital in Palo Alto.

By focusing on one of the most difficult and expensive transportation challenges, paratransit, the applied research Miskell, and his team are doing could have a huge long-term impact on the way mobility services are delivered in Silicon Valley. As Miskell describes in the above interview, an on-demand shuttle would meet the customer at her home. For those people needing help, a paratransit professional would meet that person and help her launch or end the trip.

Olli at the SmartDrivingCar Summit.
Olli at the 2019 SmartDrivingCar Summit.

What makes this approach unique is there would be one vehicle for both paratransit and mobility-on-demand applications. That is, the shuttle offering paratransit service would also pick up other passengers, regardless of whether they have paratransit needs. In this way, the shuttle assets would be shared across the entire network.

And regarding the network, on-demand, first/last-mile of autonomous shuttles would allow the existing buses to focus on core routes, creating more express-like routes (e.g. fewer stops) with greater frequency (e.g. 5 or 10 minutes between buses, instead of up to one hour). [See this article for more detail on this type of approach, https://viodi.com/2015/09/08/a-transition-steps-to-an-autonomous-transport-future/].

Off-camera, Miskell mentioned that they are working with Local Motors, which are producing an autonomous shuttle that is largely 3D-printed. What makes Local Motors especially good for an agency like VTA is its open, modular nature, which allows different technologies to be mixed and matched. This is especially important when developing an ADA-compliant vehicle that also meets the many rules that a transit agency has to abide by (e.g. Buy American clauses, for instance).

Stay tuned, as testing is expected to start in April or May of 2020.

Author Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

By Ken Pyle, Managing Editor

Ken Pyle is Marketing Director for the Broadband Forum. The mission of this 25+-year-old non-profit “is to unlock the potential for new markets and profitable revenue growth by leveraging new technologies and standards in the home, intelligent small business, and multi-user infrastructure of the broadband network.”

He is also co-founder of Viodi, LLC and Managing Editor of the Viodi View, a publication focused on the rural broadband ecosystem, autonomous vehicles, and electric aviation. He has edited and produced numerous multimedia projects for NTCA, US Telecom and Viodi. Pyle is the producer of Viodi’s Local Content Workshop, the Video Production Crash Course at NAB, as well as ViodiTV. He has been intimately involved in Viodi’s consulting projects and has created processes for clients to use for their PPV and VOD operations, as well authored reports on the independent telco market.

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