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Driverless Shuttles Rise and the Cities Taking Notice

by Michael Abdoney - 01/22/2021 - Tampa

Yes, the folks in these cities get to ride a shuttle for free, which is a treat. They get to go to their jobs, go to the dentist to get their teeth fixed, or just enjoy their cities without a driver. It may be a little strange to jump into a shuttle and see no driver or a steering wheel, but it's here now.

Autonomous cars have been discussed online and in the technology community for quite some time, but things are moving slowly. The closest people have gotten to a fully autonomous vehicle has been in science fiction movies, yet here it is. It's the first time this type of technology has been available to regular folks, and it's pretty exciting.

The company behind the pilot program is Beep. They want to see how folks react to driverless shuttles. The program launched in both cities at the same time, yet there is a major difference between the two cities. It seems that the people in St. Petersburg are more interested in this technology than the people in Tampa.

Only a few hundred people have taken a ride in these shuttles for a route in Tampa, yet in a route in St. Petersburg, thousands of people have participated. This happened in a few short months. The problem could be communication between the company and the folks in the community, or it could be a number of other factors. 

The transit authorities in both cities are doing their best to ensure this is a successful program. They even blocked off streets to keep people safe. The folks who have taken a ride in these shuttles do have a good time, and they get to go to their favorite places in downtown for free, which is a plus. 

One person who boarded the shuttle was 62 years of age, and he was excited to see what this shuttle was all about. He was visiting St. Petersburg and couldn't pass up the chance to ride a driverless shuttle. There is an operator on board who answers everyone's questions. The man' s name was Frank. He definitely had a lot of questions like many other riders. Everyone wants to know how it works and if it's safe.

The operator explains that the shuttle doesn't know if something is safe or not. It's not a live machine, but what it does know is its destination and how to deal with an obstacle. The vehicle detects obstacles and makes adjustments accordingly. It never misses an obstacle, which is part of the reason why it's so safe. Frank, the passenger, said he felt safe in the shuttle, but he wasn't sure he'd fall asleep while riding in it.

Folks who are paying attention to shuttle programs think the people of Tampa are not riding this shuttle because it wasn't placed in a tourist area. They think it should have been placed in an area where there's a lot of natural foot traffic. Still, this issue can be addressed once another program is run. 

It seems that most folks taking a ride on these shuttles are happy with the experience. Folks feel safe, and the operators within the shuttles help them feel more comfortable during their trips. The range of people taking a trip in these shuttles is pretty diverse. Lawyers and grocery baggers are all experiencing this together.