Mall at UTC owners ponder future with the EZ10 driverless shuttle.
Imagine you could ride a train without any tracks, or ride on a bus without any driver.
What if a similar vehicle could pick you up when you walked out of The Mall at University Town Center and take you to your car? Or what about a ride from the Super Target south to the DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse?
Benderson Development is courting such technology.
Transdev, a Paris-based transit provider, showed off its driverless shuttle Jan. 23 outside The Mall at UTC. Called the EZ10, the electric vehicle can transport up to 12 people, six standing and six sitting. It has no steering wheel and neither a dedicated front or rear.
The shuttle, created by a French company called EasyMile, operates autonomously following a virtual line mapped and programmed into the software of the vehicle. It uses GPS, cameras, radar and laser technologies to stay on track and make adjustments for unexpected situations, such as a pedestrian stepping into its path. It stays within one centimeter of its mapped course.
Transdev and EasyMile, in partnership, launched a nationwide campaign to promote the EZ10 and Transdev’s transit management services, with Sarasota as its launching point before going to Atlanta, Dallas and San Jose, among other locations.
“Florida is a good environment for this type of application,” said Dick Alexander, executive vice president of business development for Transdev North America. “This is real cutting edge. This is the year it will come to life.”
Benderson Development owns the University Town Center shopping plazas along University Parkway and Cattlemen Road and co-owns The Mall at UTC with Taubman Centers.
Todd Mathes, Benderson’s director of development, said the company is serious about bringing technology to the area to service customers.
“Long term, this is where we see the transit system going in Sarasota, linking public transit to private properties,” Mathes said. “You can go anywhere. It’s pretty amazing.”
No agreements are confirmed between the mall’s owners and Transdev and EasyMile, but theo-
retically, automated shuttles could be at The Mall at UTC by summer, Alexander said. The company would have to work with Benderson to determine routes, how to have customers interact with it and other variables, he said.
“The automated shuttles would be a phenomenal get at UTC,” Mathes said. “The system is completely scalable so, given the opportunity to partner with TransDev and EasyMile, we might see more and more units come online as demand reaches capacity.”
Xavier Salort, head of sales for EasyMile, agreed the area is a good location for piloting the shuttles and said the vehicles may even be a transportation solution for the upcoming World Rowing Championships in September, at the nearby Nathan Benderson Park.
“There’s probably a lot of synergy with what they are doing here,” he said. “For us, it would be a perfect way to start somewhere in Florida. It’s a good way to advertise.”
EasyMile started working on prototypes about three years ago and has produced about 35 vehicles. They are driving in 15 cities throughout the world, including cities in Singapore and in Finland, where the company has tested the shuttle in different climates and conditions.
EasyMile will start fabricating its third generation of the EZ10 shuttle in June and expects to build up to 50 in 2017, so supply is limited. It anticipates assembling more than 100 in 2018, Salort said.
Alexander said current laws do not allow operation of driverless vehicles on public roadways, so early adopters of automated vehicles will be private users using the shuttles on private property, as in Benderson’s situation.
“This is very early in the process,” Alexander said. “All the rules haven’t been figured out yet.”