Utah gets a look at an automated shuttle that may signal a coming era of driverless travel

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Utahns will soon have the ability to take a test ride in the state’s first fully autonomous vehicle as part of a pilot program featuring an automated street shuttle. Brought to the state by the Utah Department of Transportation in partnership with the Utah Transit Authority, the shuttle had its first public test run Thursday.

The vehicle is now legally able to operate on Utah roads after state lawmakers passed a bill allowing testing of the shuttle to move from a closed track to sidewalks and state roads.

“We want the public to experience it and start to see how this could fit into the future of our transportation system,” Carlos Braceras, UDOT executive director, told members of the media prior to the demonstration.

Utah is one of the fastest growing states in the nation and Braceras believes the technology will help mitigate some of the highway deaths that increased traffic would cause.

“Over 37,000 people die on our roads every year and 94% of all crashes are due to human error. What we hope and what we believe is that with the autonomous vehicle we are going to see technology help take over some of those driver functions and make driving safer,” he said.

The shuttle, which can seat eight people and has handholds to allow another seven or eight people to ride while standing will initially have a safety operator accompany riders. But Braceras predicted that after the technology has time to develop, this precaution will no longer be a necessary.

Part of Thursday’s demonstration was a show of the technology’s ability to detect and avoid obstacles or pedestrians in the way.

The UDOT executive likened the vehicle to the space shuttle from the 1960s animated sitcom “The Jetsons,” noting however that it’s “an incremental step” that likely “won’t appear very exciting because it is operating at a slower speed [15 miles per hour] but this is a safe way to step into this future technology.”

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