You may pass Google's self-driving car while driving down the highway in California and Nevada, but the technology still isn't quite ready for mass market use (or, at least, Google is holding off on releasing it). But if you have $250,000 dollars to spare, there's another driverless vehicle available for purchase today: the Navia, an electric, autonomous eight-person shuttle that has already been tested on regular roads and inside university campuses around the world, all with minimal fanfare.
Developed by French software company Induct, the Navia is intended for "last-mile" trips--the trip from a campus entrance to a dorm, for example, or from a parking lot to a concert venue. With a top speed of just 12.5 miles per hour, the vehicle isn't exactly highway-ready. But that's not the point.
While it's based on some similar technology to Google's driverless car (it navigates with lasers), the Navia is designed to be operated completely independently. In Google's car, a driver is always present. The Navia has no driver, instead functioning like a driverless Uber or Lyft. "The Navia can wait for a call from a smartphone, come to take care of passengers, and take them where they want to go," explains Pierre Lefèvre, CEO of Induct.
Passengers choose where they want to go using a touch screen inside the vehicle. Even though a driver isn't present, each vehicle is monitored remotely. If something goes wrong, the Navia can be stopped immediately. There's also an emergency shut-off system inside the shuttle.
The vehicle can see up to 200 meters in front of it, 350 degrees around it, and can recognize objects like cars, pedestrians, and bikes. It's charged up by wireless induction chargers located in nearby parking lots. Six hours of charging yields just over 62 miles of drive time.
Lefèvre believes his first customers will be university campuses, amusement parks, airports, and other places that need to shuttle large numbers of people around in pedestrian-heavy areas. Of course, $250,000 is a lot of money to plunk down for a vehicle. But Lefèvre maintains that its 40% to 50% cheaper to operate than a traditional gasoline-powered shuttle that requires a driver (you don't pay for the gas or the driver).
Intuit plans on developing new vehicles in the future, but isn't aiming to sell its software to major auto manufacturers. "Our goal is not to put more cars into cities, it's to get less cars in the city," says Lefèvre. "We want to propose a different way to move inside cities and inside campuses."
[Images: Courtesy of Navia]