A City in Polk County is Trialling a Driverless Shuttle To Help Boost Business Downtown - Would You Take a Ride?

Toby Hazlewood

Autonomous vehicles coming to Florida's streets

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Coast P1 Autonomous VehicleFacebook

The city of Winter Haven in Polk County is in the process of piloting the use of hi-tech driverless shuttles to ferry passengers around its downtown area. The autonomous vehicles started live trials on March 31 and if trials complete successfully then more of these shuttle buses could start to be seen in downtown Winter Haven and beyond.

The vehicle - known as a Coast P-1 - was created by Coast Autonomous, a corporation from Pasadena, California. The electric shuttles are completely self-driving and bi-directional (meaning they have no front or back and move in both directions. The shuttles are programmed to navigate a fixed route and passengers on-board are able to select their stop using a tablet computer in the passenger compartment.

The vehicles have up to a 16-hour battery life and navigate using a series of cameras and lasers to guide them and detect (and avoid) obstacles, other vehicles and pedestrians. Depending on the number of seats, a shuttle will hold up to 20 people. If they prove popular then it might just help to entice people to downtown Winter Haven.

Are they safe?

In 2018, Coast trialed some of their shuttles in the heart of New York City, with a vehicle operating on routes around Times Square.

The obvious concern that people tend to have about driverless vehicles is whether they are safe. As far back as 2017, autonomous 'Keolis' shuttles have been trialed and used to transport passengers up and down the strip in Las Vegas NV. Just 2 hours into the start of this service, one of the shuttles was in an accident although this was found to be the fault of the driver of the other vehicle.

Elsewhere in the U.S. there are numerous trials going on, to prove and then adopt driverless vehicles. In the suburbs of Phoenix, AZ, Waymo driverless taxis are a familiar sight, transporting passengers around the city in driverless cars fitted out with extensive radar sensors and cameras. In Peoria, AZ there are Coast P1 vehicles being used to ferry patients to medical appointments too.

So far there have been very few incidents or accidents reported in the Waymo trial, and many of those that have happened have proved to be the fault of other vehicles with drivers on-board!

Driverless delivery in Miami

In Florida, many have already become accustomed to seeing self-driving food delivery vehicles from Reef Technology, moving around the downtown city streets. The vehicles are used to deliver take-out foot orders that would otherwise be delivered by services including DoorDash and Uber Eats.

While such vehicles aren't necessarily endangering humans so much because they don't carry passengers, it demonstrates yet another way in which we may get used to seeing more autonomous vehicles on Florida's roads in the future.

If you're in the area and want to ride the autonomous shuttle, you can do so in downtown Winter Haven by the water tower this Saturday, April 2.

Would you trust an autonomous, driverless vehicle with your safety? Do you believe they represent a risk to the public or are they safer than human-driven vehicles? Let me know in the comment section below.

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