Updated: On October 19, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a statement saying it has directed Transdev North America to immediately stop running its Babcock Ranch autonomous school shuttles, calling the pilot program “unlawful and in violation of the company’s temporary importation authorization.” NHTSA says the Transdev shuttle was approved for “a specific demonstration project, not as a school bus.” While Transdev said it believed the program did meet NHTSA’s approval requirements, the company has voluntarily shut down the project.
The southwestern Florida town of Babcock Ranch bills itself as the nation’s first solar-powered town. Now, it can add another big high-tech notch to its belt: The first city to test autonomously driving school shuttle buses.
This fall, the planned community has partnered with Transdev to launch a pilot program for self-driving shuttle buses that can transport up to 12 children at a time.
Like other autonomous shuttles that are popping up across the country, the EasyMile Easy10 Gen II is pod-like vehicle that runs on electricity. The yellow shuttle bus will follow a predetermined path, scooping up children from a designated pick-up area and dropping them off in front of the school. Though the goal is to eventually allow on-demand, door-to-door pickup through an app.
Though the pilot program will be tightly controlled, it’s still a wild idea, and one that naturally raises the question: Does a school bus really need to be the testing ground for new and still relatively unproven technology? The answer is probably not. But Transdev says to start, the shuttles will reach turtle-level cruising speed of 8 mph (eventually working its way up to 30 mph), and will have automatic breaking and a safety assistant on board.