Earlier this morning, Metro and Texas Southern University held a ribbon cutting for the launch of an autonomous shuttle to ferry students around the TSU campus, located in the heart of the Third Ward.
The shuttle itself is an EZ10 Gen2 manufactured by the company EasyMile. EasyMile claims on their website that the EZ10 is the most widely installed autonomous vehicle in teh world with more than 200 installations and 350,000 autonomous miles driven. It holds 6 seated passengers and 6 standing passengers, although an attendant will also be inside who can take manual control.
The EZ10 is limited to 15 MPH and has a suite of sensors designed to detect pedestrians and automatically stop until they leave. I watched a demonstration and the EZ10 stopped roughly 5 feet away from the pedestrian. As soon as she moved, it started right back up and went along it’s way.
The current plan is to use the EZ10 in three phases. Phase I is currently in operation as of earlier this month, and ferries students along the TSU Tiger Walk (a portion of Wheeler Ave that has been closed off to cars and is used by pedestrians/cyclist only). The EZ10 takes roughly 10 minutes to make a 1 mile loop on the designated route.
Phase II will ferry students onto public roads with cars to the nearby Robertston Stadium/UH/TSU light rail stop. Phase III will extend further an underneath I-45 to add the Eastwood Transit Center onto the route.
UH is a partner in this project, so I would think it likely that when the Phase III expansion happens that there would be a stop or two on UH’s campus before the journey to the Eastwood Transit Center.
Metro board chair Carrin Patman talked about how autonomous shuttles like these can help solve the “last mile” problem. The last mile represents getting passengers from their residences or workplaces to the closest Metro stop.
H-GAC Executive Director Chuck Wempel talked about how Kroger is already running an autonomous grocery delivery pilot in Houston and that Domino’s recently announced an autonomous delivery pilot as well.
Overall, I would say that this project looks extremely promising! Metro said that they would be studying how well the vehicle performs before expanding to Phase II and potentially Phase III.
While I didn’t have the time to stay and take a ride myself today (there was quite the line) the service is already operating in a normal daily capacity of M-F 8am-2pm and 5pm-8pm. Timing is also subject to accommodate TSU’s requests in relation to summer classes, student holidays, etc.
For more information, visit the Houston Metro Innovation website.