On January 17th 2017, I took a ride on ARMA, a driver-less vehicle designed by the French firm Navya. I could see pedestrians nervously look at the 15 passenger bus as they tried to cross the street. As I rode in the bus I started to think, how does the bus know where to go? What happens if something or someone get’s in the way? When will it be available to the public? How can it help our community? After a very informative ride, I had all my answers.
ARMA is loaded with cameras. In fact, there are so many cameras on it that it has a clear 360 degree view of it’s surroundings. ARMA’s cameras take pictures every few seconds, which, in turn, gives it a “real time” understanding of what is going on around it. The cameras allow ARMA’s navigation system to be almost exact as to what you and I would see. ARMA’s point of view is actually only two inches off from our point of view. This allows ARMA to navigate and park almost as if a person was driving it.
ARMA’s 360 degree view allows it to identify signs, stoplights, and even surprise obstacles. It can even understand a sign and act accordingly. For example, if ARMA were to see a Yield sign, it would know to slow down and check for traffic. ARMA can also identify pedestrian crosswalks. ARMA’s amazing technology is so advanced, that if I were to run in front of it, it would stop. During my ride on ARMA, one of the demonstrators actually go off on a stop, and on our way back, ran in front of it! As designed, ARMA stopped.
ARMA will be on the streets soon. This particular bus is headed to the Convention Center after the demo period, where it will be put to good use. As this vehicle becomes more popular, it will travel private streets. Due to the large amount of traffic on Las Vegas Blvd. ARMA is not expected to be seen on the strip, but rest assure that it will be making its way into our neighborhoods.
For those in the community with disabilities and (are?) unable to drive, ARMA’s arrival is great news. It will be an alternative to normal transit transportation, and may be more affordable too. As I spoke to the demonstrator, I asked about fare rates. For now, there will be no cost to use ARMA, but in the future, a small fare may be required. The monthly cost to run ARMA is about $10,000.00, where a regular city bus can cost around $86,500.00 per month. So we can expect fare to be very affordable.
This experience has opened my eyes to the advancement of technology. It is great to know that there are things happening around me that can help our elderly and disabled community maintain their independence. I am looking forward to seeing the community using these little buses all over town.