COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Starting Monday morning, people in Columbus can take a free ride on a self-driving vehicle as part of the Smart Circuit.
Right now, there are three autonomous vehicles that travel a loop around downtown Columbus, stopping at COSI, the National Veterans Memorial and Museum, the Smart Columbus Experience Center and Bicentennial Park. The vehicles run seven days a week from 6 am until 10pm.
Each vehicle uses radar and sensors to drive mostly on its own, but a human operator stays in the vehicle at all times, sitting in the driver’s seat to take over if needed.
“You can ask them questions,” Jordan Davis of Smart Columbus said. “They’ll talk to you about the technology. But they’re there to ensure that it’s safe.”
Operator John Hargrave with May Mobility gave NBC4 a tour on Monday and explained what Mikko, his self-driving vehicle, was doing during the drive.
“He’s approaching the stop sign, he’s going to put his blinker on, he’s going to slow down,” Hargrave said.
Mikko handled most of the route on its own, but there were a few challenges: a pedestrian with a dog, waiting on a street corner, as well as a truck surrounded by traffic cones in one lane of the road. In those situations, Hargrave took over to help.
As the technology continues to improve and evolve, Davis said the goal of Smart Columbus and Smart Circuit is to educate people about the technology, “to essentially raise the public knowledge of how it will work and how we can prepare for the growth of this technology.”
Smart Columbus said it is looking at other routes in central Ohio neighborhoods, hoping to give commuters options for their transportation.
Smart Columbus won a federal challenge in 2016, beating out more than 75 other cities to win a federal grant to deploy technology such as this.