Ohio Self-driving Shuttle Service Stalled After Minor Incident

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
ohio self driving shuttle service stalled after minor incident

You may recall the autonomous Linen LEAP shuttle service that launched in Columbus, OH earlier this month. Well, the city placed the program on pause last week because someone fell during an abrupt stop. Smart Columbus, the group responsible for the service, has taken both EasyMile EZ10s off their route for assessment by the manufacturer.

Additional details kept us hip to how the program has done so far. According to local outlet WCMH-TV, the twin shuttles have moved 50 people around the Linden area since launching on February 5th. That averages out to a little more than three riders per day, which we don’t have to tell you isn’t great value for the money when the entire project costs millions. But that was never Smart Columbus’ plan. The intended goal was to connect a subset of carless residents in one neighborhood with essential services and other parts of the city.

That aspect of the scheme hasn’t gone seamlessly, either.

While the official reason for pulling the shuttles off the road is the fall, Smart Columbus did confirm that they were also idled due to unsavory winter weather. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve climbed inside a new car on a snowy day only to have it inform me that various driver assistance features were inactive less than ten miles into my journey. It always makes me wonder how useful autonomous features actually are when even the most basic systems seem totally crippled by a little road salt or ice on the sensors.

The Transport Workers Union, which represents Central Ohio Transit Authority drivers and has opposed the autonomous shuttle program from day one, says an independent, third-party investigation is needed to determine what caused the vehicle to stop abruptly, requiring one rider to be transported to hospital. It also claims it was ignorant for the city to allow citizens to use the service before the technology had proven itself safe. Further investigation has shown that the woman’s injuries were minor, but the reason for the shuttle stopping abruptly near the Douglas Community Recreation Center on Thursday is less clear.

“Yesterday, the vehicle was traveling at 5.6 miles per hour and made a sudden stop, and there were two passengers on board, and one of the passengers was jostled from her seat and as a result, she did seek medical attention from that incident,” Alyssa Chenault of Smart Columbus, told WCMH-TV on Friday. “We’re looking into that and we’re in the introductory phase of collecting information on that.”

Since then, the group has notified the U.S. Department of Transportation and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of the incident.

We certainly applaud Columbus for taking what appears to be a rather minor incident seriously, but this once again throws cold water on the entire concept of vehicular autonomy being anywhere near ready for mass consumption. The Linden LEAP program only exists because the city was the sole recipient of a $40 million USDOT grant tied to the Obama administration’s Smart City Challenge, plus an additional $10 million from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. That provided seed money for Smart Columbus — which spent at least $1 million on its contract with EasyMile alone.

While that’s not far from how much its costs to purchase and operate a full-sized, electric bus for a few years, Linden LEAP is just two small shuttles with less room for riders overall. Meanwhile, the project is only supposed to last until February of 2021. Now they’ve both been taken out of service over what sounds like a minor mishap.

It’s an interesting experiment, even if it’s not going swimmingly at the moment, and it may even help to advance autonomous vehicles. Unfortunately, Smart Columbus has said it’s too soon to say when the shuttles will resume operation. It’ll likely wait to see what EasyMile has to say and may even hold until the DOT responds.

[Images: Smart Columbus]

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  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Feb 25, 2020

    Lawyers will stop AVs, not technology.

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    • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Feb 26, 2020

      @ToolGuy Corey, your link refers to the just-published results of NTSB's investigation of the 3/23/18 crash. The summary is well worth a read: https://www.ntsb.gov/news/events/Documents/2020-HWY18FH011-BMG-abstract.pdf

  • ToolGuy ToolGuy on Feb 26, 2020

    Summaries from Tesla's Q4 2019 Vehicle Safety Report https://www.tesla.com/VehicleSafetyReport Accident Data "In the 4th quarter, we registered one accident for every 3.07 million miles driven in which drivers had Autopilot engaged. For those driving without Autopilot but with our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 2.10 million miles driven. For those driving without Autopilot and without our active safety features, we registered one accident for every 1.64 million miles driven. By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 479,000 miles." Vehicle Fire Data "From 2012 – 2019, there has been approximately one Tesla vehicle fire for every 175 million miles traveled. By comparison, data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and U.S. Department of Transportation shows that in the United States there is a vehicle fire for every 19 million miles traveled. In order to provide an apt comparison to NFPA data, Tesla’s data set includes instances of vehicle fires caused by structure fires, arson, and other things unrelated to the vehicle, which account for some of the Tesla vehicle fires over this time period."

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    • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Feb 26, 2020

      @mcs Interesting to focus on the Mustang with respect to performance. Would you still buy a Tesla with performance more in line with a Leaf? You literally have some of the highest performing cars out there driving themselves...sometimes into stationary objects.

  • Dukeisduke This would be a nice car. I've long been a fan of the W123 series cars - and one of my favorite colors for these. This would be the injected (D-Jetronic?) 2.8l inline six.Was the cloth always purple like this, or is it age that turns it purple?
  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys nobodys mentioned free HD radio?
  • ChristianWimmer I am a huge W123 fan but I never liked the square headlights on the 280/280E/280C/280CE models and later on the post-1983 entry-level models. The W123s always looked right with the circular headlights.This is a great car, though. But 230C/CE & 280C/CE are so common here - I want a US-spec 300CD Diesel or 300CD Turbodiesel because that would be an exotic here in Germany.
  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys not a single word on whether this grey market would even pass smog or be driveable in the state.
  • MaintenanceCosts Gorgeous, even if the W124 coupe is even better. Too bad about that paint color, though.