Boston-based autonomous vehicle company Optimus Ride launched its fleet of self-driving cars in Brooklyn last week.
Six self-driving vehicles run on a loop from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. between the Cumberland Street entrance and the NYC Ferry stop at Dock 72.
One person sits behind the wheel to take control should anything go wrong, and a software operator sits in the passenger seat with a laptop to record data.
This initiative is the first publicly accessible self-driving program in the state, according to Optimus CEO Ryan Chin.
The Navy Yard’s private roads allows the cars to be tested quicker, bypassing a lengthy permit process with the Department of Transportation.
“We knew we would be going to places like this when we started the company,” Chin said.
Optimus Ride mapped the Yard’s environment and monitored the flow of pedestrians and cars to dtermine the right size of the fleet.
Each vehicle seats six people, and while the safety driver and software operator occupy the front two seats, the company hopes to replace them with passengers.
“Right now, there’s no company in the world that has fully driverless cars,” Chin said. “That’s our goal.”
Chin explained the cars at the Navy Yard are designed with cyclists and pedestrians in mind. He recalled a recent drive where a dog walker took up an entire lane, and the car followed the two slowly without overtaking them.
“Bicyclists in general obey the rules, and they are actually pretty predictable in how they move,” Chin said. “The engineers believe they can program this vehicle to be more rational than actual drivers.”
Engineers also program the cars to behave with certain human characteristics. For example, after fully stopping at an intersection the car will stick its nose out to signal to other drivers that it is about to move.
“We’re exhibiting behaviors so that others know what we’re trying to do,” said Chin.
All the cars are fully electric, which was an important choice for the company.
“We believe that the future is shared, electric, and autonomous,” said Chin.
Chin is confident the trial at the Navy Yard will lead to industry-wide advancements.
“The prime minister of the UK can come here and see what we’re doing here in New York,” he said. “Then they can take that back home and decide how they want to look at the benefits of autonomy.”