May Mobility Rolling Out Self-Driving Shuttles in Ohio’s Capital

May Mobility, the Detroit-based startup putting self-driving shuttles on urban streets, today announced it will soon begin operations in a new city: Columbus, OH.

May has operated autonomous shuttles in downtown Detroit since June, providing transportation to employees of Bedrock, a private company. By contrast, May’s Ohio shuttles will be open to the public, says Ben Thompson, the company’s head of business development. That’s a notable milestone for May and the broader field of autonomous vehicles, which has started to see companies make self-driving vehicles available for limited public use, including Waymo’s program in Phoenix and Drive.ai’s service in Frisco, TX.

Thompson says it’s the “first big pilot” for autonomous vehicles in Ohio, but Columbus has already shown interest in advancing smart city technologies like those encompassed by the mobility industry. In 2016, Columbus beat out nearly 80 applicants to win the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge, scoring a $40 million grant in the process. It also won a $10 million grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation for the initiative.

“How will cities look 50 or 100 years from now?” Thompson says. “We have a unique opportunity to partner with Columbus, the state, and local businesses.”

May’s electric, sensor-laden vehicles will ferry riders along the downtown Scioto Mile loop, which includes tourist destinations like the National Veterans Memorial and Museum. May says the shuttles will come with a panoramic glass roof, allowing riders to gaze at the skyline while they sit in a four-seat configuration in the rear of the vehicle. In the front cabin, passengers can access a 49-inch digital display that provides system and route information. Each shuttle will also come with a human operator capable of taking the wheel, should the need arise.

“In Columbus, we’ll have a broader appeal—anyone can ride,” Thompson says, adding that May will map and test the route before launching with passengers in December. “Initially, there will be no charge to ride. We want to make it available to as many people as possible.” He’s unsure what passengers will pay in the future, but says May “will work with our partners to make sure it’s affordable.”

May’s partners for this deployment are Smart Columbus, a regional smart city initiative backed by public and private partners, and DriveOhio, an office within the state’s Department of Transportation that connects the people in charge of building the state’s infrastructure with entities developing mobility technologies. Thompson declined to disclose the value of the partnership, but said the pilot is fully funded for the next year. Ohio State University will also work with May “to help lead the initiative from a research angle” and assess rider response, Thompson says.

Thompson says it’s been a busy summer for May. The company took a mere 75 days to surpass 10,000 rides with the Bedrock deployment, and it improved service along the way—including reducing shuttle wait times from 20 or 30 minutes to four or five.

“It’s really exciting,” he adds. “It shows our service is working and commercially viable.”

The plan is to continue expanding to more locales. Thompson says that six months from now, May expects to be operating in four states “and probably more by spring.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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