Grand Rapids gets new autonomous cars for free rides

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — New vehicles are rolling around downtown Grand Rapids and they’re raising a lot of eyebrows along with questions.

You may have noticed the Lexus SUVs with the sensor on top and wondered “what are they doing?” It’s a self-driving shuttle. All you have to do is wait at one of the Dash West stops and a luxury SUV will come by to pick you up for free.

The vehicles are getting a lot of attention. Most people confuse them for a Google Maps car.

“A lot of people think that’s who we are,” said May Mobility Site Supervisor Lacey Heiss. “When we pull over and try to pick them up they are confused.”

These new May Mobility autonomous vehicles have been on the street for a little more than a week. It’s an upgrade from the former white vehicle that was driving around; both of which are partly funded by the city. Gentex is also a sponsor and is using them to test their new technology.

All three of the SUVs on route have a driver who can take control at any time. 

“I can go right back to autonomy,” said Heiss as she showed us how it works. “I’m not driving it at all. I just have my hands in case I do need to take over.”

Cameras and sensors around the vehicle detect moving objects and traffic lights.  

“So even though it stopped for the red light, it stopped sooner for the pedestrian,” said Heiss. 

The SUVs take passengers to and from locations along the Dash West route which goes from downtown Grand Rapids to the west side. The vehicles stop every few minutes, weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“This is like the future happening before your eyes,” said Heiss, who is happy to be a part of it. “Our goal is to change the outlook and change the everyday lives of people in transportation.”

There are plans to add on-demand rides in late July and future plans to add larger vehicles to the fleet. 

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