Optimus Ride, a self-driving vehicle technology company, just launched a free, self-driving car service in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. We were given the opportunity yesterday to test out the service in advance of the public launch, which happens today! The self-driving car service service is now open to the public for transportation between the entrance of the Navy Yard at Cumberland Gate on Flushing Avenue and the NYC Ferry’s Dock 72 stop. The six cars will run in a circle around the area continuously from 7 am to 10:30 pm, and will transport an estimated 500 passengers every day, 16,000 a month. As a privately owned industrial enclosure home to over 400 manufacturing businesses and 10,000 employees, Brooklyn Navy Yard provides the perfect environment to test out autonomous driving services that could eventually be expanded to serve larger public areas.
Dr. Ryan Chin, the CEO and co-founder of Optimus Ride, said while he conceived the service with commuters who work in the Navy Yard in mind, the cars will be open for the benefit of anyone, with a broader goal of expanding transportation throughout the city. “There are certain parts of the city that it’s very hard to get access to. This is an example of a system that can be applied to other transit deserts. We’re working in concert with mass transit as well. The subway line should exist, and people can use this system to get to the subway line. That will help to improve ridership and get more private cars off the road.”
Although Optimus Ride is currently only operating within the private space of the Navy Yard, Dr. Chin sees the current location as a unique space to test drive transportation methods that could eventually be implemented throughout New York. These roads are quite like the streets outside…you have all kinds of traffic. It’s just that the Navy Yard is a more structured environment to test, deploy, and validate.” This type of testing has been tried before, with Citi Bike. According to Tiffany Townsend, Vice President of External Affairs at the Brooklyn Navy Yard said in a Tweet, “Citi Bike, the bike-share program, was first tried out at the yard before launching in Manhattan.”
The Optimus Ride vehicles are equipped with Level 4 self-driving systems that detect pedestrians and other traffic through radar and make decisions based on stored data. Although they currently are running with drivers for safety purposes, Optimus Ride is currently working to move into entirely unassisted driving. Brooklyn Navy Yard, a manufacturing hub, has also announced its plan to double its number of employees by 2021 and renovate several of its buildings for $1 billion. Since its creation in 2015, Optimus Ride has already successfully implemented its technology in several areas in Boston and carried out 20,000 trips, and has plans to deploy in Fairfield and Virginia near Washington D.C.
Chin went on to say that in the long run, as Optimus Ride gets more international attention, the Navy Yard line could even become a model to the rest of the world as a successful deployment of autonomous transportation for public use. “By deploying here, you not only have the ability to introduce New Yorkers to autonomous vehicles, but also the whole world can come here and see this technology and bring those ideas back home, and realize the real benefit they can provide.”