Other than wanting it to drive “a little faster,” Peoria Mayor Cathy Carlat, was impressed by the first public ride in Peoria’s new autonomous van.
“I remember when we used to call artificial intelligence futuristic, now we’ve invited it to live in our homes,” Carlat said.
The Robo Ride autonomous shuttle, which was set to open to the public on Feb. 22, carried Carlat and Peoria City Council members to the parking lot of the Peoria Chamber of Commerce and Huntington University. They exited for a ceremonial ribbon cutting and remarks by city officials to celebrate the project launch.
Peoria is spending $78,500 for the Robo Ride vehicle, created and operated by Beep Autonomous Mobility Solutions.
The shuttle holds around ten people and runs for 60 days around the P83 area from noon to 6 p.m. daily at no charge. Stops are made at Huntington, Harkins Theatres, Headquarters and the Hampton Inn.
Beep CEO Joy Moye said the ride is not only interesting in its ability to utilize technology, but also is simply a fun option to travel and socialize with a group.
“We’re focused on multi-passenger experience allowing about eight to 10 people to get around pretty comfortably,” Moye said. “You’ll notice it’s people facing each other, more of a community environment where people are facing each other and can have a conversation, and people don’t have to climb over each other.”
Peoria Public Works Director Kevin Burke said the launch was made to be around the same time as Spring Training and a spike in tourism in Peoria. While the shuttle does not go directly to the ballpark, it is another element of entertainment existing for those who want to spend time at P83 following a game.
He said he understands hesitancy people have to a self-driving automobile, especially when they have never seen or been in one. But, he encouraged people living in or visiting Peoria to give Robo Ride a shot. There will be a human attendant on board for added safety.
“People are generally a little cautions about autonomous vehicle technology, until they have seen it and interacted with it. Then they’re rapid adopters and we want to see whether it is true in Peoria,” he said.
Burke added some riders will be surveyed about their experiences, with questions about their initial concerns and whether they were alleviated on the trip.
If the public sentiment is great enough after 60 days, he said, there could be a chance autonomous transportation becomes a permanent fixture in the area.
He said P83 would be a great spot for the vehicles, as well as events in Old Town typically requiring shuttle service from parking lots to different venues.
“Long-term, if this works, this environment would be perfect for an autonomous vehicle, but we want to look to other environments.”