GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Grand Rapids is getting ready for the day when cars that drive themselves will hit city streets.

Next year, an all-electric, autonomous shuttle that can seat five people will loop through popular West Side neighborhoods, heading east where it will move through parts of downtown and the Arena District.

Grand Rapids, Consumers Energy and Start Garden/Seamless are part of the nine-member Grand Rapids Vehicle Initiative, which has set out to prove the streets of Grand Rapids are ready for the vehicles of the future. 

“We think that the self-driving technology really has a massive potential impact on improving people’s lives, and Grand Rapids will be one of the first cities to pilot this technology,” said Edwin Olson, Founder and CEO of  Michigan-based May Mobility, which builds the technology loaded shuttles.

Olson showcased the high-tech shuttle outside the Bridge Street Market Friday afternoon.

“The first thing you’re going to notice is that this doesn’t look like a regular vehicle,” he said.

It’s 3.2-mile route will test not only how the vehicle’s cameras and sensors handle Michigan’s seasons, but important questions on how passengers will react to the driverless rides.

“How can we improve their rider experience? What kinds of things do they do when they don’t have to drive and they have their 15-minute commute to themselves?” Olson said. 

Michigan has already become a testing center for autonomous vehicles, with M City and the American Center for Mobility on the state’s east side.

In June, Ford Motor Co. named Grand Rapids one of three communities in its “City of Tomorrow Challenge.”

It’s a crowd effort to figure out better ways to move people around in the future. The city with the best ideas will get $100,000 to test out programs.   

Autonomous vehicles will be one more piece of the mobility puzzle.

“Autonomous, driverless vehicles are no longer a question if the technology works, but whether how we are going to apply it, to best serve our community and the people,” said Start Garden CEO Mike Morin.

The shuttle will run 5 a.m. to midnight during weekdays starting next March.