May Mobility and Bedrock Deploy Driverless Shuttles in Detroit

In March, May Mobility CEO Ed Olson told Xconomy that his company would beat Waymo, Uber, and Cruise in the race to get autonomous vehicles on the road, and it appears he may be right.

May and Bedrock, the Detroit real estate firm associated with Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert, have launched what they call “the first commercial deployment of independent autonomous vehicles on public streets in any urban core in America,” according to a press release. (It’s hard to verify that statement, as other companies have pilot studies and limited deployments in various cities.)

Starting today, May’s self-driving shuttles will transport the 18,000 employees working downtown for one of Quicken’s “family of companies” between their offices, parking lots, events, and other nearby attractions. The inaugural route will consist of a one-mile loop that connects the Bricktown parking garage to the Bedrock-owned One Campus Martius and First National buildings.

Alisyn Malek, May’s chief operating officer, declined to disclose the value of the partnership between May and Bedrock. May, headquartered in Ann Arbor, MI, will open a Detroit office as a result of the deal. She says the 60-person company’s engineers will remain in Ann Arbor, while the operations and customer experience teams will move to Detroit.

Up to three of May’s autonomous electric shuttles will be en route at any given time, Malek continues, and a human “fleet attendant” will be present in the vehicle to monitor operations and answer driver questions.

This week’s partnership is the extension of a pilot arrangement that ran last fall, when May’s six-seater shuttles carried more than 200 Bedrock passengers on similar routes, replacing an existing fleet of diesel buses. For the most part, Olson told Xconomy in March, riders were “delighted” with their driverless experience. The most common piece of feedback, he said, was the desire to have the service available permanently.

May’s approach to mobility-as-a-service involves buying the shuttle’s chassis and drivetrain systems, and then doing custom autonomous integration in-house. Olson said what differentiated May was its emphasis on system-level design.

“We are building not only the autonomy software stack, but also the low-level electro-mechanical systems within the car and sensing technology outside of the car,” he said, adding that he felt it was the only way to deliver self-driving vehicles reliable enough to operate without human safety drivers.

Malek says that in 2019, May plans to begin offering on-demand services (meaning shuttles that can be ordered, presumably) and will expand its suite of vehicles.

“We’re working with early partners like Bedrock and identifying the next best opportunities,” she adds. “We’re also working to understand how to leverage our technology to meet transportation needs.”

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