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UDOT Testing Autonomous Shuttle

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – A state employee got his face badly bruised earlier this week, when the driverless shuttle he was riding in came to an abrupt stop, and he hit the floor.  UDOT is testing an autonomous shuttle this year as part of a pilot program, and giving plenty of people a chance to ride. UDOT is sorry about the accident, but confident in the technology.

“EasyMile places the highest value on the safety of its passenger including the design, deployment, and operations of our vehicles,” said a spokesperson for EasyMile.  “It was an incredibly unfortunate incident and we immediately reduced the top speed of the shuttle and added signage to remind riders that the vehicle makes sudden stops.  After further analysis, we know that the vehicle stopped abruptly in response to a detected obstacle, as it is programmed to do.  The vehicle has returned to service and we appreciate the continued opportunity to work with Utah Department of Transportation and Utah Transit Authority on this demonstration project.”

This week, the autonomous shuttle has been carrying passengers on a programmed loop through a complex of state office buildings in Salt Lake City.  They’re testing the technology and letting people get a feel for it.

One passenger Tuesday might have felt a bit like a crash test dummy when the shuttle made an abrupt stop while traveling 11 mph.

Gene Petrie, an employee at the Utah State Tax Commission, slid off his seat and hit the floor with his forehead, according to a co-worker.

“The sensors on the shuttle noticed what it thought was an obstacle in the way, and initiated an emergency stop,” said John Gleason, a UDOT spokesman.
Nobody saw anything, and they are still trying to figure out exactly what it was the sensors detected.  But, they’re confident in the safety of the vehicle today.

The state tax commission employee was treated at an urgent care clinic, and went back to work the next day.

“We have a lot to learn about this technology,” said Gleason. “But, we’re going to take every opportunity that we can to learn and to improve.”

UDOT has shuttled more than 3,000 passengers in three months of testing.  Right after the accident, UDOT took the shuttle out of service for 24 hours, ran extensive tests, and slowed the speed of the shuttle from 12 mph to nine mph.

“We wouldn’t put it back out on the road unless we were confident that it was safe,” said Gleason. “Safety of everyone who rides the shuttle is critical and something that we take very seriously.”

The autonomous shuttle operator said, front sensors on the shuttle detected something for a fraction of a second.

“When it did that, it was so close to the sensor that it slowed and stopped very abruptly,” said Nate Ramsay, the shuttle operator.

In light of that mishap yesterday, I decided to test the vehicle and see how it would do if I stepped out in front of it.  As soon as I stepped into the road, the shuttle stopped several feet in front of me.

“People love it,” said Ramsay. “They’re excited. I hear a lot of the Jetsons talk. This is the beginning of the future.”

Royce Spilker regularly rides Trax, and knows this shuttle can help complete those trips.  He works in one of the state office buildings and decided to take a second ride this week.

“It’s something that you kind of think about as a kid, and you’re like wow, it’s now existing,” he said. “So, I was like I’ll go try that again today.”

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