Rhode Island DOT (RIDOT) Director Peter Alviti, Jr., along with state and local officials, this week hosted a demonstration of autonomous vehicle technology at the Quonset Business Park in North Kingstown. The vehicles being tested on low-volume roads in the Park are the initial phase of a pilot project scheduled to launch in Providence this spring.
The debut of the autonomous vehicles is the latest step in a multi-agency effort called the Rhode Island Transportation Innovation Partnership (TRIP), which RIDOT launched in 2017. TRIP also includes a research component, with the goal of studying autonomous mobility solutions, ridership, workforce impacts, environmental impacts and technology adoption.
The research being conducted in this pilot project will help RIDOT clarify the opportunities and challenges that come with integrating this AV technology onto state roads. The research will help improve transit and provide information for communities, the workforce, and policymakers.
"This is a very exciting day as we kick-off testing of autonomous vehicles, putting Rhode Island on the map as a leader in this new high-tech field in transportation," Governor Gina Raimondo said. "And we'll do it in a careful and safe manner partnering with institutions of higher education to carefully study and evaluate the service and its integration on Rhode Island roads."
"Thanks to the Governor's RhodeWorks program, we've made great strides in rebuilding our transportation system," Alviti said. "At the same time, we're working on projects like the autonomous vehicle pilot project to make our transportation system better, and provide more mobility choices for our customer, the Rhode Island taxpayer."
"Quonset is pleased to host this innovative transportation pilot as a test site," said Steven King, Managing Director of the Quonset Development Corporation. "As home to many Rhode Island companies at the forefront of engineering and design, Quonset is excited to assist in the fielding of this cutting-edge technology to Rhode Island."
Called the Little Roady Shuttle, each vehicle is fully electric and capable of carrying five passengers as well as an attendant who is trained how to operate the vehicle manually if needed. Up to six vehicles will be on the road at the same time, operating on low-speed roads along a 5-mile route along the Woonasquatucket River corridor with 12 stops, from Olneyville to Providence Station. The Little Roady shuttles are provided by May Mobility, Inc., which entered into a public-private partnership with RIDOT last fall, following a competitive request-for-proposals (RFP) process.
The testing period in Quonset will be followed by similar testing in Providence, prior to the start of service. This includes testing of the vehicles and all their sensors, and a rigorous acceptance testing protocol in which the vehicles must pass several safety tests including adhering to lanes, avoiding obstacles, and safe operations in both daytime and nighttime conditions as well as in different types of adverse weather. Between the two locations, the fleet will undergo 500 miles of testing.