Why robot shuttles are important

Slow-moving, self-driving, electric shuttles could be one key way that people first encounter autonomous vehicles. The other autonomous beachhead will be advanced driver assistance systems on new cars that help humans drive more safely and more conveniently.

But it’s really within these robot urban shuttles where many riders will experience their first hands-on (no hands) brush with the driverless world. Because the vehicles are moving slowly, tend to have dedicated routes and can be geo-fenced on corporate or university campuses, they can be a more predictable, less intimidating introduction to the scary new world of self-driving vehicle tech.

It’s basically the opposite strategy to launching autonomous tech on a consumer vehicle that can drive on highway speeds, such as Tesla’s Autopilot. Glitches in that real-world highway environment can be a big problem, whereas an accident at 15-miles-per-hour in a geo-fenced zone is less of a hazard. (Check out a harrowing description in The New Yorker of a Google exec allegedly testing out early autonomous vehicle tech on public roads with disturbing results.)