TAMPA (FOX 13) - The HART bus line unveiled its first driverless vehicle Tuesday as a preview of its autonomous busing pilot program that will hit the road later this year.
With room for six and no driver, the bus looks more like a battery-powered buggy, but HART's CEO, Jeffrey Seward believes this is a big part of the future of mass transit in Tampa.
"We are going to move forward with this pilot and really see how autonomous can integrate with our current system and also offer the ability to connect to our service that a typical bus costs too much to operate," Seward said.
The pilot program is funded by a $1.5 million state grant. Seward expects to have as many as a half dozen autonomous buses of varying sizes on the road by the end of the summer or early fall.
Following a news conference to announce the program, Seward joined several dozen VIP passengers on the first round of test drives through downtown.
"It did everything that you would expect a normal vehicle that was being driven by a human being to do," he said.
The buses and traffic lights are equipped with sensors that communicate with each other.
May Mobility is the company behind the technology and CEO Edwin Olson explained how the buses can navigate any obstacle on their own.
"Places with skateboarders, bicyclists, pedestrians, the occasional horse; we've seen a lot of on public roads and being able to handle that is a core part of our technical capability," Olson said during the news conference, adding there are backup sensors that keep the vehicle moving if a sensor malfunctions. "It can see 360 degrees. It has redundant sensors, so if a sensor fails or gets a bunch of mud on it, it's going to continue to be able to see an operate.
At first, Seward expects to have backup drivers riding in the vehicle to deal with any glitches but the goal is to remove them over time.