Students learned the technical aspects of the autonomous Milo shuttles as well as the potential for future applications.
“I was so happy I could experience the Milo at the very initial part,” said Tahereh Granpayehvaghei, urban planning doctoral student. “It’s being tested in many cities, and having that in Arlington is exciting to me.”
The group was made up of students from the Women’s Transportation Seminar and Institute of Transportation Engineers as well as faculty. The event was organized by students and hosted last month by Arlington principal planner Ann Foss.
Easymile is the France-based company leasing two autonomous shuttles to the city. Last month, a group of UTA students went on a field trip to ride a Milo shuttle in the Entertainment District.
Shima Hamidi, the Center for Transportation, Equity, Decisions and Dollars director, is preparing a survey to gauge UTA students’ attitudes toward the shuttle.
“We would be willing to work with the university and Easymile, should the opportunity arise,” Foss said.
A few preliminary discussions have been held between the city and UTA on bringing the autonomous shuttles to campus.
Milo is used on the weekend in the Entertainment District, so bringing it to UTA during the week wouldn’t hinder any current operations, Hamidi said.
“Sometime, someday very soon I hope, I can just go out and a shuttle like Milo will wait for me and take me wherever I like to go,” Granpayehvaghei said.
The current technology requires Easymile engineers to put a route in the Milo shuttle system. Engineers traveled from Easymile locations in Nevada and France to map out the Arlington Entertainment District, including the locations of trees, Foss said.
“The big limitation with Milo is it cannot run through the street. It has to be through a trail or walkway,” Hamidi said.
Although the Milo shuttles are autonomous, a human operator is required to be onboard at all times in case of emergencies and to perform customer service.
Foss, who is a trained operator, said the sensors are sensitive. Even falling leaves can stop the shuttle, requiring the operator to start it back again.
The shuttles are wheelchair accessible, and Granpayehvaghei believes it will one day help populations who may not be able to drive, such as the elderly or people with disabilities.
“This kind of technology could help them to be more mobile without relying on anyone else,” she said.
Autonomous vehicles are steadily being introduced more, Granpayehvaghei said. The technology makes the streets safer and more efficient, she said.
“To me, the future is already here,” Granpayehvaghei said. “I felt so excited about it anyway, even though there was a lot of difficulties and challenges and uncertainties about how it was going to work.”