Ford Preps Smart, Electric Shuttles for MIT

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Ford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology are building a fleet of on-demand electric vehicle shuttles for use on the university's Cambridge campus.

MIT ShuttlesSet for launch in September, the buses work like any other ride-hailing service: use the mobile app to flag down one of three EVs, and tell it where to go. The vehicles are small enough to navigate sidewalks while leaving plenty of room for traditional pedestrian traffic. Each is outfitted with weatherproof enclosures to shield from inclement weather—"a feature particularly useful for New England's punishing winters," Ford said.

Over the past five months, Ford and MIT have used LiDAR sensors and cameras mounted to the shuttles to document pedestrian flow between different points on campus.

By estimating foot traffic, researchers can better predict demand for the shuttles, helping drivers pre-position and route the buses to serve the most highly populated areas. Researchers also take into account factors like weather conditions, class schedules, and the changing habits of students and faculty across different semesters.

"This helps us develop efficient algorithms that bring together relevant data," Ken Washington, vice president of research and advanced engineering at Ford, said in a statement. "It improves mobility-on-demand services, and aids ongoing pedestrian detection and mapping efforts for autonomous vehicle research."

Ford hopes its collaboration with MIT will not only boost its Dynamic Shuttle project (which provides point-to-point rides to employees in Dearborn, Mich.), but also strengthen its autonomous and driver-assist technologies.

MIT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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