Crozet launches first driverless shuttle service in Virginia

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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WCAV) — People in Crozet are getting the chance to test ride a shuttle that drives itself.

The vehicle was created by Perrone Robotics, a company founded in Crozet. Founder Paul Perrone has been experimenting with autonomous vehicles for more than 15 years.

"We want to let people experience, most likely for the first time in their life, what it's like to be driven by an autonomous car," Perrone said.

The county launched a pilot program on Tuesday that will allow people to ride the shuttle for free to various points around Crozet. The shuttle, nicknamed AVNU for Autonomous Vehicle Neighborhood Use, will initially operate only in the Old Trail neighborhood, before branching out to downtown Crozet and Crozet Park.

The shuttle is the first autonomous vehicle to operate on public streets in Virginia. The project is a partnership with Albemarle County, JAUNT, Perrone and Smart Mobility.

Perrone said the vehicle has been tested for thousands of miles and it has a high safety standard.

"This vehicle has multiple eyes that are looking everywhere," Perrone said.

It relies on a combination of sensors, cameras, radar, and maps to determine where to go and how to avoid obstacles.

On Tuesday, residents could take a five-minute test ride around a few streets in Old Trail. The shuttle navigated successfully through numerous traffic circles and stop signs.

"Perrone Robotics has invested a lot of time and engineering to make sure that their software handles a four-way stop sign, which we know in Crozet is so important," said Albemarle County Director of Communications Emily Kilroy.

The shuttle rides are free during the three-month pilot program. Residents will be able to check routes online. Kilroy said the county plans to announce additional routes in upcoming weeks.

Barbara Perkins rode the shuttle for the first time on Tuesday.

"You kind of feel like you're getting on a roller coaster," Perkins said. "We have roundabouts in the community and it navigated those really, really well."

Perkins said she hopes the shuttle will allow Crozet residents to more easily navigate the town, especially if they don't have a car or don't want to use their own vehicle.

Perrone says he views shuttles like AVNU to be the best bet to get autonomous vehicles on the road quickly. He said companies have been promising driverless cars for years, but there are very few, if any, individual autonomous cars on the roads.

He hopes that autonomous vehicles will soon become part of the transit fabric of Albemarle County. He foresees a day when people will be able to hail the shuttles on their cell phone and use them to connect to other, larger autonomous JAUNT buses that can take them into Charlottesville.

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