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Driverless bus factory opens in Michigan

Autonomous and electric, ARMA shuttles, the potential future of public transit, will be made in the USA

The ARMA shuttle, a driverless public transit vehicle that will soon be manufactured in a new Michigan factory.

While cars have been the focus of autonomous vehicle coverage, don’t underestimate the impact driverless buses and shuttles may have on urban mobility. Self-driving technology could revolutionize public transportation—it’s already doing so in Helsinki, which will introduce the first regular driverless shuttle this fall. An announcement by French autonomous vehicle maker NAVYA yesterday confirms that at least part of the future of autonomous public transportation will be built in Michigan.

NAVYA’s new Michigan manufacturing plant, located in Saline, just south of Ann Arbor, will produce driverless ARMA shuttles. Since introducing these vehicles in October of 2015, NAVYA has already deployed 45 in cities across the globe, including a successful trial on the Las Vegas strip. To date, more than 170,000 passengers haven taken rides in these shuttles.

In a statement, NAVYA says the new plant, a 20,000-square foot facility, will create 50 new jobs and help it respond to growing demand in the North American market.

ARMA shuttles, driverless and electric public transport vehicles, can carry up to 15 people at a top speed of 28 miles per hour. The company claims the batteries can last between 5 and 13 hours.

This announcement reinforces Ann Arbor’s growing importance as a hub for autonomous vehicle development. The University of Michigan’s Mcity, a 32-acre test site that offers automakers and technology companies built-to-scale, simulated streetscapes, has attracted researchers, manufacturing, and investment. As part of NAVYA’s arrival in town, ARMA shuttles will begin regular service on campus at the University of Michigan and give visitors tours of Mcity.

As transportation shifts to a sustainable, more autonomous future, it may become a growing business. Another domestic manufacturer, Proterra, recently started manufacturing electric buses in Los Angeles (one in seven buses made in the U.S. is sold in California).