Ford Motor Company and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have partnered to make an innovative on-demand shuttle pilot program a reality.
Using a fleet of small, battery-electric shuttles that can just as easily navigate sidewalks as they can city streets, Ford and MIT’s program will start serving students and faculty at the research university this September. The shuttles can be hailed with a smartphone app, and are outfitted with LIDAR (LIght Detection And Ranging) sensors and cameras to allow them not only to navigate the campus autonomously, but to observe and document the flow of pedestrians.
The data gathered will allow researchers to predict where and when demand is likely to be highest so that the shuttles can be routed and pre-positioned to serve students and faculty as efficiently as possible.
“The onboard sensors and cameras gather pedestrian data to estimate the flow of foot traffic,” says Ford VP of Research and Engineering Ken Washington. “This helps us develop efficient algorithms that bring together relevant data. It improves mobility-on-demand services, and aids ongoing pedestrian detection and mapping efforts for autonomous vehicle research.”
Ford points out that the new program is largely complimentary to the Dynamic Shuttle pilot being conducted at its own Dearborn campus, which also uses data and analytics to bolster the efficiency with which commuters are served. Both shuttle programs of course feed into one component of a larger “multimodal transportation” solution that Ford is working on as part of its Smart Mobility initiative.