The Med City Movers won't wow anyone with their size or horsepower. These low-speed, all-electric vehicles max out at 15 mph and only have space for six passengers.
But the dinky little purple-and-orange curiosities represent a significant milestone: They are the first driverless public shuttles in Minnesota.
The vehicles made their service debut this week, and for the next 12 months they will scooch riders along a 1.5-mile loop in downtown Rochester. Rides on the Med City Movers are free, with the shuttles navigating real-world traffic conditions as they putter between two stops (the Gonda Building on Center Street and the People’s Food Co-op on 6th Street).
The project is a collaboration between the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), the city of Rochester, Destination Medical Center, Mayo Clinic, First Transit and EasyMile. The shuttles will operate for a year as part of a pilot project, with the project's partners gathering data about:
- How automated vehicles function in all types of weather conditions
- What kinds of infrastructure changes might need to happen to ensure driverless vehicles can operate safely
- What perceptions and feelings people have about the prospect of using or sharing the road with these types of vehicles
“Partnership projects like this are essential to better understand the benefits, challenges and risks of automated technology,” said MnDOT Commissioner Margaret Anderson Kelliher in a statement. She also called rider feedback a "priority."
While the Med City Mover shuttles operate autonomously, an attendant will always be on each vehicle during the pilot to make sure it is operating correctly and that passengers are safe.
The shuttles will be in operation every day except for holidays: 9 a.m.-3:30 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. on weekends. Here are a few more photos of the vehicles.