May mobility, a leading player in the development of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, today announced the launch of the first driverless service for riders on public roads in Sun City, Arizona. May Mobility’s “rider-only vehicles” will operate daily without an operator sitting in the driver’s seat. The company’s move to the driverless program is another signal that the AV technology space as a whole is maturing, even as some companies struggle.
May Mobility says Sun City represents the first of many communities where the company aims to launch its rider-only transportation services to provide accessible, safe and reliable transportation.
“Today, we are taking the key step of launching rider-only operations, a cornerstone of our commercial growth and expansion,” said Edwin Olson, CEO and co-founder of May Mobility. “We believe it is critical to work closely with our key strategic partners, regulators, insurers and riders as we develop our technology step by step.”
May Mobility highlighted them Multi-policy decision making (MPDM) technology. which “is designed to solve the challenge of making safe driving decisions under conditions of uncertainty, including when the vehicle faces an unknown scenario. MPDM runs real-time on-board simulations to analyze thousands of possible scenarios every second, choosing the safest one to run. This approach to autonomous technology makes May Mobility’s vehicles capable of handling peak cases and allows the company to scale more efficiently and quickly than it would otherwise.
The company also claims a system cost advantage. “May Mobility has created a more scalable autonomy solution at a fraction of the cost of other systems of similar maturity,” said Anna Brunelle, chief financial officer of May Mobility. “And as we continue to expand and improve the business driverless design space, we’re getting closer to our goal of being the first profitable AV company.”
Prior to the transition to rider-only service, May Mobility’s vehicles began operating on public roads in Sun City with a safety operator in April 2023. The company launched on-demand autonomous public transport service partnered with transit technology company Via to serve Sun City’s retirement community and provide greater access to affordable mobility with shared, on-demand AVs. May Mobility says the service was designed “to enable the elderly population to gain increased freedom and mobility safely and reliably”. What they’ve learned over the past eight months has allowed the company to now launch the driverless service.
In Sun City, a select group of Early Riders will be able to request pickup in one of May Mobility’s Toyota Sienna Autono-MaaS vehicles from various stops. The rider-only service will initially operate on public roads Monday through Friday afternoons and will be available free of charge.
Called “Valley wave,” May Mobility’s rider-only service runs over 4.5 miles and will serve housing estates, medical centers and other key locations. Early Riders are a group of Sun City residents with diverse transportation needs who will provide feedback to help the company enhance rider-only features in a public transit environment. May Mobility is working with community stakeholders on the possibility of expanding the service area in the coming months.
As with other companies moving to driverless operations, I asked the company if there is an “attendant” on board to react to unusual situations. May Mobility said that until now, its fleet has typically had an autonomous vehicle operator (AVO). The AVO is responsible for entry if the vehicle needs to go into manual mode, as well as assisting ADA riders. The Sun City Rider-Only launch will be the first deployment to remove AVO, operating completely driverless. Instead, each rider-only vehicle will be virtually monitored by an individual teleassistance operator who can assist if needed.
The company pointed out that its existing sites will continue to operate with AVO, saying that “while the removal of AVO demonstrates the maturity of May Mobility’s autonomous technology and May Mobility plans to expand its Rider-Only offerings, some sites will still continue to operate with an AVO according to local regulations, rider feedback and ADA assistance with our wheelchair accessible vehicles.”
May Mobility currently offers AVO-based services in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Arlington, Texas and
Grand Rapids, Minnesota. May said they will identify key learnings from the development of driverless Sun City and implement feedback before bringing the rider-only service to other cities and locations.
The company is currently in discussions with new partners and expects to launch new diversified development sites in the first half of 2024. The “coming soon” information on their website indicates that services in Detroit, Michigan and Contra-Costa County, California are on the horizon.
Public Sector as Client
May Mobility’s unique strategy is to work directly with stakeholders such as cities, transit agencies, municipalities and government agencies to identify gaps in current public transportation systems and solve real transportation challenges for communities. May Mobility’s shift to rider-only operations is a key next step toward achieving these goals.
Few driverless companies take this approach, at least in the U.S. May Mobility’s unique approach exposes them to the typically fast-paced procurement processes of urban transit agencies as well as changes in city political leadership. But as they cultivate customers and develop long-term deals, they could end up with a level of stability that is the envy of other driverless ride-hailing companies that depend on individual riders for revenue.
Commercialization and Scaling
GM’s mistakes have dominated the news lately Cruise robotaxi attempt and Tesla’s Autopilot recall. When things go as planned, it’s not all that exciting on a smartphone news feed.
We are nowhere near the finish line in this space, but there is real progress. In the robotaxi sector, Waymo be conducted 700,000 is traveling autonomously this year, continuing its steady path to expand geographically with AV vehicles that fulfill their customers’ expectations.
in truck transport, Gatik recently announced plans to transition into freight operations in late 2024, serving the freight needs of B2B short-haul logistics. Long distance players Dawn and Kodiak plan to be commodity only in the same time frame.
In any type of transportation, safety is a fundamental expectation for riders and the people who share the roads on which driverless vehicles travel. May Mobility is in the very early stages of rolling out and scaling its end-state system, continuing to demonstrate the diligent-only-ready-when-ready mentality that is critical to safely and successfully scaling operations without driver. If they have their way, Sun City is just the beginning.
Disclosure: I am also a Consultant and/or own equity in Aurora and Gatik.