new autonomously driven shuttle

Albemarle County Board of Supervisors members Diantha McKeel (right) and Ann Mallek look at the autonomous shuttle.

Autonomous shuttles are now on the road in Crozet.

Perrone Robotics, a Crozet-based developer of autonomous vehicle software, is running the pilot autonomous shuttle program in a partnership with JAUNT and Albemarle County.

“We’re here today to launch the first autonomous shuttle operating on public roads with the public on board in the state of Virginia,” Perrone Robotics founder and CEO Paul Perrone said at the event last week.

The shuttle is called Autonomous Vehicle Neighborhood Use, or AVNU.

Perrone Robotics’ general purpose robotics operating system has “given life” to its vehicle independent autonomous shuttle technology platform. Perrone said the platform is capable of driving a wide range of vehicles.

“It’s what we hope will be the spark for enabling driverless vehicle technology to take you wherever you want to go, whenever you want to get there now, versus waiting over 10 years for it,” he said.

The pilot autonomous shuttle program was initially announced in November with a March launch date, but due to additional safety testing and issues with establishing a public service corporation, the launch was pushed back to July.

The pilot will operate for three months and routes will change throughout Crozet. The first route will be within the Old Trail Village neighborhood, and the second route will run between Old Trail Village and downtown Crozet.

Ultimately, the routes and schedules will be posted on a website that is scheduled to launch later this month. The shuttle will be running on Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon and then again from 3 to 5 p.m., and it will be running those same times on Saturday and Sunday.

This week, Perrone is taking the shuttle to an autonomous vehicle conference in Florida.

“We’re going to operate it down there as a shuttle for the attendees,” Perrone said.

JAUNT CEO Brad Sheffield said that during this process he has learned a lot about the autonomous industry and what the transit industry needs to know about self-driving vehicles.

“This type of effort opens up new opportunities at a neighborhood level to be able to serve the community at a more intimate approach, rather than just a broad approach,” he said.

Perrone Robotics board member Nolan Bushnell, the creator of Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant chain and co-founder of video game company Atari, said self-driving cars are more important than world peace.

“It turns out that more people are killed on highways than in any of the wars that we’ve fought,” he said, without citing evidence.

“Plus, now you can get from point A to point B while being hammered,” Bushnell said. “What’s wrong with that?”

Joel DeNunzio, administrator for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s Charlottesville residency, said VDOT is considering what the “highway of the future” will look like as more autonomous vehicles get on the roads.

“What we’re looking for from someone like Perrone Robotics or anybody that’s developing these vehicles is what can the state, the county do, as the local transportation agency, to make sure that they have the network they need,” he said.

Two examples DeNunzio used would be to address maintenance in a timely manner and to make sure pavement markings are in good shape.

He said that from a safety perspective, autonomous vehicles are “tremendous.”

“I’m convinced that these vehicles can drive better than any of us can drive,” DeNunzio said.

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