Capital Metro offers dreams of driverless shuttles in SXSW demo


Highlights

$250,000 pod-like shuttle pilots two-stop loop around a UT parking lot.

Capital Metro says it currently has no plans to purchase French-made electric vehicle.

A glimpse of the future slowly rolled around a University of Texas parking lot Thursday afternoon, making almost no noise as it completed its loop.

The oddly proportioned, 13-foot long, 10-foot tall, battery powered, driverless pod-bus-shuttle-thing could be the key to solving Capital Metro’s long-standing struggle to better link sprawling car-friendly, suburban-style neighborhoods to its existing service along transit corridors. Someday.

“It’s something that’s in the future, it’s not something that’s happening now,” Capital Metro spokeswoman Mariette Hummel said. “It’s just a way to research what we could be doing to connect people who live in areas that don’t have transit to our services.”

The transit authority teamed up with UT, contractor RAPT Dev and Easy Mile, the shuttle’s manufacturer, to put on the demonstration during South by Southwest.

Priced at an estimated $250,000, the pod-like EZ10 shuttle navigated a simple loop around a parking lot near the LBJ Presidential Library, guided by satellite positioning and a laser system so accurate that an engineer said it would keep within an inch of its programmed path. There were two stops and no planned obstacles in the way.

It had a second laser-based system designed to keep an eye out and detect if anything managed to get in its way: Two young boys took to running in front of the bus to test the system and see if it would stop; it did.

The inside of the French-built vehicle felt more a terminal-linking airport tram than a city bus: There were three seats on each end of the shuttle, and space for another six people to stand in the middle.

While these shuttle pods are operating or being tested in Australia, France, Japan, Singapore and a few other places, Capital Metro currently has no plans to buy any.

“Austin is always at the forefront of technology, or tries to be; and Cap Metro likes to be as well,” Hummel said. “It’s something to look forward to.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

What are you most curious about: Drug cartels, traffic lights or weirdos?
What are you most curious about: Drug cartels, traffic lights or weirdos?

It’s time to vote! We’ve sifted through hundreds of reader questions submitted to our Austin Answered project to pick the finalists for this voting round, and now we want to know which question you’d like for one of our reporters to answer. What are you most curious about? Got your own question? Hit us up at statesman.com/austinanswered...
Residents sue Central Health over funding of UT Dell Medical School
Residents sue Central Health over funding of UT Dell Medical School

After five years of arguing that the Travis County health district’s voter-approved contributions of taxpayer money to the University of Texas’ Dell Medical School are unlawful, activists have finally put the issue into the hands of a Travis County state judge. Travis County voters agreed in 2012 to raise Central Health’s property...
Judge: Stop blocking abortion for teen immigrant in Texas
Judge: Stop blocking abortion for teen immigrant in Texas

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered Trump administration officials to stop blocking a pregnant 17-year-old immigrant from having an abortion while she’s being detained in Texas after crossing the Mexican border without authorization. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan of Washington, D.C., ordered administration officials to allow the teenager...
Court: Examine if Austin crime lab botched death penalty evidence
Court: Examine if Austin crime lab botched death penalty evidence

The state’s highest criminal court on Wednesday ordered a closer examination of death row inmate Areli Escobar’s claims that shoddy work by the Austin police crime lab compromised evidence in his case. Escobar is seeking to have his conviction overturned, and a new trial ordered, after a Travis County jury sentenced him to death in the...
Houston school district apologizes for altering homecoming queen's photo
Houston school district apologizes for altering homecoming queen's photo

When Ebony Smith was awarded the homecoming queen honors last week at a Houston-area school, she posed for the photo in a purple-jeweled crown nestled on her purple-dyed hair. The brightly colored hair is a dress code violation at North Shore Senior High School in Galena Park, just east of Houston, but how the school handled it caught everyone off...
More Stories