The future is here

Electric autonomous vehicle demonstration

Electric autonomous vehicle demonstration

Hennepin County recently partnered with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, the City of Minneapolis and other community and agency partners to demonstrate use of the EasyMile EZ10 autonomous shuttle on a two block stretch of the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis.

Thank you for learning with us

Autonomous vehicle technology is not a thing of the future; it’s already here. To make sure we are ready to realize the potential benefits, we are working to learn more about it, like how it could:

  • Enhance connections to transitways
  • Benefit people without cars or people with disabilities
  • Help more people get to more places without relying on a personal vehicle

Earlier this year, on April 28 and 29, we invited you to learn along with us and share your feedback at a public demonstration. Thank you to everyone who came out!

What did we learn?

100 percent detection of pedestrians and bicyclists

Staff and volunteers conducted both controlled and uncontrolled tests of the shuttle’s ability to detect people walking, biking and rolling near the shuttle in different scenarios. Staff observed the screen onboard the shuttle that shows when objects are detected. At the same time, other staff outside the shuttle counted the number of people passing or encountering the shuttle, then compared the two numbers.

In all test cases involving people walking, biking and rolling, the shuttle’s sensors were 100 percent accurate.

Survey results show comfort and optimism

Results of the public survey of riders and trail users indicate the majority of community members who rode the autonomous vehicle enjoyed their experience.

Most of the respondents stated that their experience made them optimistic about the idea of having autonomous vehicles as a form of transportation. One participant wrote, “I didn’t know how the whole thing worked. After experiencing it and hearing about the technology, it made it realistic and attainable.”

Another residents stated, “I knew it was part of the future, but I wasn’t convinced until today.”

See full survey results (PDF).

A possible transit solution for the Midtown Corridor?

Hennepin County purchased the Midtown Corridor in the early 1990s to preserve it for future transit use. While various types of transit have been studied for the corridor, autonomous shuttles have not been previously considered.

Some Hennepin County staff, elected officials, and community partners are now asking whether autonomous shuttles could be a possible transit solution for the corridor that could be feasible sooner than light rail or other forms of rail-based transit, which may take many years to implement.

While there are no immediate plans to implement autonomous shuttles in the Midtown Corridor, staff will continue to consider it as we learn more and the technology continues to develop.

Nope, no one is taking away the Greenway. Yep, that would be silly.

While this short-term demonstration was held on the pedestrian portion of a limited section of the greenway, any extended test or permanent implementation of any sort of transit service in this corridor – including autonomous shuttles – would be entirely separate from the existing trails, which are an invaluable regional amenity.

Regular users of the Midtown Greenway will recognize the large empty portion of the corridor that runs parallel to the trail. This is where future transit could operate without displacing the existing greenway trail.

Shaping the future

Hennepin County is continuing to study autonomous vehicle technology, and considering the different ways it could impact transportation in our communities. There are many possible applications, benefits, and some potential pitfalls, as well. Connecting more people to high-frequency transit like light rail is one application staff are actively studying, along with others.

The future may be here, but it’s still taking shape. As our region continues to grow, making sure residents can get to their destinations safely and efficiently will require innovative and strategic solutions.

We also know there won’t be a single solution that serves all the diverse needs of our growing population. Hennepin County will continue to work with our partners and communities to shape a transportation system of the future that works for all our 1.2 million residents.