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The first US Autonomous Transport System to be launched in Tampa Bay.

Posted by Emily O'Dowd on Nov 1, 2016

Driverless cars have been the talk of the mediThe Downtown Autonomous Circulator a for some time. The cars are still under continuous development so it is unlikely that we can expect these on our roads within the near future. However, there has been an agreement between Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) and Florida’s Department of Transport (FDOT) to fund the investment of an electronic Autonomous Circulator in North America's Tampa Bay by 2017. HART is a bus agency that serves the Downtown Tampa region with approximately 200 buses. The transport company will receive investments of $500,000 from FDOT each year to fund this new venture. If the project is a success then funding will be extended for a third year. Autonomous Circulators will be smaller than a bus but larger than a car with the ability to transport twelve passengers at a time to diversify Tampa Bay’s travel options. The region is the first in the US that will see these vehicles on their roads operating predominantly downtown areas which have always suffered with mobility issues. Now the autonomous transport circulator hopes to change this.

"FDOT is working together with our communities to promote the use of autonomous technologies," FDOT District Seven Secretary Paul Steinman said. ( @myFDOT ) "Our mission is to help solve the transportation needs of our area utilizing all transportation modes, while maximizing the use of the funding sources available. We are very excited about this project." 

The Downtown Autonomous Circulator will operate on the Marion Transitway which can only be accessed by buses and emergency vehicles between the Marion Transit Centre and central downtown. The vehicle will be electronically powered and travel 10km/h. The project is hoped to compliment other public services provided for the region and improve the transportation links for commuters in the first and last stretch of their journeys.

However, this is not be the first commercial automated circulator in working operation. HART are using the same technology which has already been launched in Lyon, Helsinki and the Netherlands. Washington have also been inspired by Tampa Bay’s vision towards transport of the future. They are now trialling the WePod shuttle ahead of the commercial launch in Miami and Las Vegas. WePod will carry its passengers on a 200m journey with the ambition that it can also be used for cargo trucks. The Washington vehicle has been named Olli and is operated by lidar - a laser-sensing system also employed by Google's driverless cars, to read the road. Olli runs on electricity and wireless recharging.

Downtown Tampa

From the recent launch of these autonomous circulators, the cities have identified some drawbacks. Earlier in August this year the Finnish capital introduced two of the vehicles with a potential top speed of 40km/h but they are only programmed to travel at a disappointing 10km/h. This means they are slower travel options in less congested periods. Similarly, Lyon’s electric vehicle runs just under 10km/h, whilst in the Netherlands they operate at 8km/h and circulate a route of only 6.5km/4 miles. The driverless vehicle will cost around $200,000 (£170,000) fitted with lasers, cameras and electronic systems to avoid collisions, but they are unable to manoeuvre around traffic. By contrast, a standard bus in America costs around $300,000 and can carry between 50-60 passengers travelling faster speeds.

Despite these disadvantages, this is a groundbreaking public transport development for North America. The sustainable technology is also hoped to ease congestion, reduce C02 emissions and make full use of the Marion Transitway. Next month, HART will promote their new electronic vehicles at an Industry Day - the fourth Annual Florida Automated Vehicle Summit help in Downtown Tampa and this year the event is designed to showcase Florida’s automated vehicle progress. The annual Riverfest event in the summer highlighted the importance of this automated circulation solution.

It looks like next year residents in the Tampa region will see a new face of urban transport.

"We want to thank FDOT Secretary Paul Steinman for his leadership in helping HART receive up to $1 million in funding from the Florida Department of Transportation for this service," HART Chief Financial Officer Jeff Seward said. "We will utilize our experience in multi-modal solutions to work with our partners to provide much-needed relief to address mobility needs in Downtown Tampa."

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Topics: projects, urbanmobility

Emily O'Dowd

Written by Emily O'Dowd

On graduating with a degree in English Literature at Royal Holloway University of London, Emily joined the editorial team. When she isn't writing articles for the website or interviewing experts in the industry she enjoys reading, running and sailing.

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