French startup Navya debuted its Arma driverless shuttle van to the U.S. market in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Friday, inaugurating a research partnership with the University of Michigan.
The 11-person vehicle, which travels at speeds of up to 28 mph, will be tested at the university's 34-acre Mcity test track and may eventually be operated as a shuttle on campus, according to Jack Hu, vice president of research and development.
Christophe Sapet, chief executive, said the company has sold 30 Armas to date in various countries at a price of $250,000 each. Purchase of the vehicle includes induction charging equipment that brings Arma to full charge -- providing about 10 hours of operation -- in about five hours.
Navya announced an investment in October of about $34 million from two strategic investors, public transportation provider Keolis and French automotive parts group Valeo (VLEEY) , along with Qatar-based holding Group8. Currently, the vehicles are built in Lyons, France, though Sapet said Navya intends to manufacture in the U.S.
"We are thinking of ways to integrate Arma into our transportation grid," said Hu. "In the meantime, it will help people understand the technology," perhaps averting or defusing nervousness about vehicles that are controlled by software or artificial intelligence rather than human drivers.
Sapet said his firm is concentrating on so-called "first mile/last mile" solutions for advanced mobility solutions such as how to move passengers from a train depot to their destinations or from a large parking lot to an amusement park or shopping mall. He mentioned two Navya competitors in the "first mile/last mile" space, without referencing a name.
In August, Delphi Automotive (DLPH - Get Report) said it was selected by the Singapore Land Transport Authority "to develop and test a fleet of fully autonomous vehicles and a cloud-based mobility-on-demand software (AMoD) suite." Densely populated urban areas are particularly interested in advanced mobility solutions that can help ease crowding and pollution.
Arma is equipped with sensors to detect pedestrians and other obstacles, which bring it to a safe stop. The course it follows is mapped and pre-determined, so it wouldn't be able to find a destination on a public roadway -- at least not yet. The vehicle can communicate with traffic signals.
University officials said Arma will undergo further testing at the American Center for Mobility, which is under construction in nearby Ypsilanti, Mich., at the site of the former Willow Run plant that produced B-24 bombers in World War II and later was transformed to a General Motors transmission plant.