Self-driving shuttle vehicles may transport people at UC, CVG airport

A local group paving the way for self-driving vehicles in Greater Cincinnati hopes to spark a transportation revolution with a driverless shuttle pilot program early next year.

University of Cincinnati students and visitors to Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport would be among the first to cross the digital divide in the driverless shuttles if the program gets the green light.

But CVG  and UC officials said it's still way too early to provide details about possible routes or even the types of vehicles they would use for driverless transport.

"We’re in the very early stages of discussing this possible partnership and its implications,'' said Brian Cobb, vice president of customer experience at CVG. "Our engagement is focused on the positive potential it has for introducing autonomous vehicles in our area within a relatively controlled environment.''

If a decision is made to move forward, the pilot program would be limited to driverless transport on private roads at UC and CVG.

But the ultimate goal is to use pedestrian and traffic data from the pilot program to back a resolution to deploy driverless shuttles on public roads throughout the Cincinnati area, said Zack Huhn, president of Cincinnati-based Venture Smarter and director of Smart Cincy.

Smart Cincy is a public-private partnership pushing for a "connected vehicle infrastructure" in Greater Cincinnati that is negotiating with the school and the airport to launch autonomous shuttles on their campuses early next year, Huhn said.

"There are a lot of conversations we’re hoping to start with this pilot program,'' Huhn said. "Cincinnati has a chance to come out as a leader in this space, and we've pretty much been dedicated to developing and setting standards for how all that will work.''

Intelligent transport systems that incorporate driverless vehicles have the potential to reduce traffic congestion and pollution and alleviate strained transit systems like Cincinnati's, Huhn said.

"This would do what the streetcar should have done,’’ he said, referring to the Cincinnati Bell Connector.

Jiaqi Ma, a UC assistant professor who teaches traffic engineering and transportation planning, said self-propelled shuttles on campus would provide a tremendous opportunity to study and test new driverless technologies.

The proposed shuttle program would also dovetail with his students' plans to build and test their own autonomous car next year, Ma said.

"There is no current discussion on demonstrating them together,'' Ma said, referring to the shuttles and the driverless car his students are building. "But I think they absolutely can be demonstrated together with some additional coordination effort within the university.''

Huhn said he has been working with a variety of government agencies, including the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, as well as a number of industry partners, to fund and deploy driverless fleets on public roads once projects are approved.

A resolution to be presented to City Council would propose at least two autonomous vehicle service routes:

  • A route from the Cincinnati waterfront to Northside along Vine Street, where the Cincinnati streetcar runs.
  • And, a route from the airport to the Downtown core, connecting to uptown and surrounding suburbs.

If approved, it would be the first-of-its-kind smart transportation system in the Cincinnati area.

Read the full article originally published here.