By on February 25, 2020

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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27 Comments on “Ohio Self-driving Shuttle Service Stalled After Minor Incident...”


  • avatar

    Want to see the onboard video of the jostling and fall. That’s barely above walking pace.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      That’s 8 feet per second – enough to injure a frail rider.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      Maybe worse than you would first think. Take this guy out of his seat, change the direction of the impact, and put lots of hard surfaces around:

      https://youtu.be/sSjVt5TOlZw?t=6

      The bumpers took the delta V down to 4.7mph. Even so, his head experienced 7.3g.

      (On the other hand, the shuttle did a hard stop, not a full-on collision.)

      • 0 avatar
        Steve65

        You’re offering an advertisement by a chiropractor as evidence?

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          All I want you to do is watch the dude’s head in a 5.6 mph collision (at the 6-8 second mark indicated). Now make him an elderly female sitting on a hard plastic subway-style seat, or a large female sitting at the rear of the open-style vehicle with nothing in front of her but empty space for 8 feet, or a very fit female sitting looking down at her phone and not holding on to anything. It’s not necessarily a trivial event.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Lawyers will stop AVs, not technology.

    • 0 avatar

      I dunno, Teslas are kinda doing a good job stopping themselves by killing their inattentive drivers.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        Corey, around 166,000 people have been killed in roadway fatalities since your January 10 safety post.

        Do you want to snark on Tesla, or are you interested in saving lives? (If the latter, you do have some potential positive influence to wield.)

        • 0 avatar
          ToolGuy

          Tesla-specific data:
          https://www.tesladeaths.com/

          33 Tesla drivers have died in Teslas in the history of the planet.

          119 people globally have died in roadway fatalities where a Tesla was involved in some way – ever.

          Over 3,600 people are killed each day in roadway fatalities around the world.

          https://www.cdc.gov/injury/features/global-road-safety/index.html

          • 0 avatar
            Jagboi

            Those numbers are entirely meaningless, since the number of Tesla’s on the road compared to all motor vehicles at 0.006% can be rounded to zero.

            The real important number is deaths per million km (miles)driven, and where those km are driven. The roads in Africa and parts of Asia have much higher rates of road fatalities per km than Europe or North America, yet relatively fewer Teslas. The bulk of Teslas drive on the safest roads, so naturally you’d expect their fatality level to be lower.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            U.S. 2018 rate was 1.13 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled.
            https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812826

            Don’t know the U.S. 2018 Tesla rate, but…

            There were 12 U.S. Tesla-involved deaths in 2018.
            https://www.tesladeaths.com/

            At the end of 2018, there were approximately 331,521 Teslas in operation in the U.S.:
            http://carsalesbase.com/us-car-sales-data/tesla/

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            26 to 180 deaths out of 2.2 million vehicles sold for the Ford Pinto and we are still talking about it 40 years after the last one rolled off the assembly line. You don’t get a pass when your vehicle kills their occupants in a preventable manner. They need to fix this.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            And the fact that 2.2 million people purchased a freaking Pinto over 10 years puts those Tesla numbers in a bit of perspective. Was 2011 their first year? And not all of those have the “self driving feature”…those are the deaths in question here. It is not a mathmatically insignificant ratio when you look at cars like the Corvair, Pinto, GM Crapboxes, and some of the other safety campaigns the NHTSA has gotten involved with.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            Back with more math, if I may:

            Say that the 331,521 Tesla vehicles in operation in the U.S. at the end of 2018 each did an average of 10,000 miles in 2018 (some more, some less, obviously some weren’t on the road for the entire year).

            That’s 3.3 billion vehicle miles traveled by Tesla vehicles in the U.S. in 2018.

            At the U.S. average rate of 1.13 fatalities per 100M vehicle miles traveled, we would have seen 37 Tesla-related fatalities on U.S. roads in 2018.

            But in reality there were ‘only’ 12.

            If Tesla is actively working to kill its customers, it appears to be less effective than other OEM’s.

          • 0 avatar
            ToolGuy

            Art,

            The Popular Mechanics estimate of “27 to 180 deaths as a result of rear-impact-related fuel tank fires” does not come anywhere close to the total number of Pinto-related fatalities – it’s a small subset. (The analogous figure for “Verified Tesla Autopilot Deaths” would be 3 for the U.S. plus 1 for China.)

            I have not stated that Tesla should not be concerned with Autopilot-related crashes.

            The Pinto fuel tank design did not offer (to my knowledge) any active safety benefits.

            According to Tesla’s published safety reports (see below), Teslas have a lower accident rate when Autopilot is engaged.

          • 0 avatar
            Art Vandelay

            I agree and am only comparing the fuel tank related deaths vs autopilot related deaths. Other accidents happen and Teslas on the whole seem to be very safe cars.

            Autopilot though seems to have been oversold with respect to capability and there is certainly the appearance of Tesla simply telling customers “You know, it can’t really drive itself right, wink wink”. GM’s system seems to have safeguards built in that would help to prevent these abuses, though I doubt there are enough Super Cruise equipped vehicles on the road to draw a meaningful conclusion.

            The NHTSA has (or should at least) a keen interest in autonomous vehicle deaths, no matter how infrequent especially with respect to things like the car driving into the backs of stopped firetrucks.

            You can argue that it is really safer and what not, but perception is everything and there is a perception that these systems lend themselves to abuse and when they do fail, fail in a pretty catastrophic manner. The visibility makes government involvement more likely and Tesla should introduce safeguards for that fact alone…it is just good business to keep the government from acting here as well as getting to the bottom of what happened to improve the systems.

          • 0 avatar

            Another Autopilot death today. They’ll continue racking up until they recall this easily abused system and fix its deadly faults.

            https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-51645566?fbclid=IwAR3S6BZuo2bspItmHgXcJt4tC_4Iy_H5DKdMMjZ5g0kO6GGv4qAQTekBZQE

          • 0 avatar
            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

  • avatar
    ToolGuy

    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.”

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      While those numbers paint a rosy picture of Tesla there are some factors that make those numbers seem better than they probably are.

      The average age of Teslas on the road is certainly very low, since they haven’t had much volume until relatively recently. Meanwhile the average age of the US fleet as a whole is somewhere near 12 years. That means there are a lot of not so new cars out there that don’t come even close to the occupant protection of the average 2 year old car. So yeah in a similar crash severity you are more likely to die in in a 2000 model year than a recent version of the same or similar model.

      Then you need to factor in the buyers/drivers of those cars. People who can afford new cars are are more likely to be more responsible and mature than someone rolling in a car they picked up at the BHPH lot.

      The same argument applies to the fire data.

      So yeah show me the Tesla numbers against cars of a similar age, not vs the average of the fleet in total.

      • 0 avatar
        ToolGuy

        Scoutdude,

        Very valid point. Here is IIHS data on driver death rates by make and model. Be aware that there is a data lag, and a confidence interval – because statistics.

        https://www.iihs.org/ratings/driver-death-rates-by-make-and-model

        Some luxury models have *very* impressive (low) numbers. And there are some real surprises (ex. between brands) on mainstream models. Some of the differences are likely due to safety equipment, much of the difference would seem to be tied to driver behavior (but this is speculation on my part).

    • 0 avatar
      DenverMike

      Let’s suppose Teslas are the world’s safest cars. That’s awesome, but does that, or is it enough to excuse its indiscriminate kills?

      Would you have a problem with “an update” that disables Autopilot, completely disengaging when drivers aren’t paying attention to their own driving?

      If so, why?

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        I’d have no problem having a feature that disables autopilot when a driver is not paying attention. However, it shouldn’t just shut down. There should be a process where it pulls the car over to the side of the road and parks. There are cases where the lack of attention could be due to a medical emergency. That’s the safest way of dealing with it and it would provide additional incentive for drivers not to abuse it.

        Let’s talk about another feature on cars that can cause deaths. High performance. While I don’t have statistics in front of me to confirm it, I suspect cars over a certain power to weight ratio are more prone to kill indiscriminately. Should high-performance capability or features be banned because some people abuse them? Should a Mustang GT500 become a trim package with 150 hp and CVT because people are going to abuse anything else?

        • 0 avatar
          DenverMike

          Despite what you claim, you’re still defending Autopilot. Others, at least might find Autopilot exceptionally “handy” while eating in the car, texting and whatnot, even if they won’t admit it.

          Yes it doesn’t have to abruptly disengage. Gently pulling off the road would be a nice touch, if say there was no driver interaction/awareness.

          But any low-performance car, boring Toyota, etc, can be abused and mishandled, and obviously driven too fast and or aggressive for conditions/weather.

          The point is that’s not the car itself doing the kills.

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          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.

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