Car photo

2016 Range Rover Sport HSE

Driving with your hands and feet could soon become a thing of the past.

Well, in Babcock Ranch that is. For three days, SAE International is inviting the public to ride in self-driving cars beginning Dec 12.

“Proper testing of autonomous technology is crucial to the success of self-driving vehicles,” SAE International Chief Product Officer Frank Menchaca said in a press release. “The public’s acceptance and comfort is key to that testing.”

The car, a 2016 Range Rover Sport HSE, will be provided by Perrone Robotics. The company uses its MAX engine, which integrates data from a “wide range of sensors, decides on appropriate course of action, and sends instructions to controls on a vehicle,” according to the company’s website.

The purpose of the event is to gauge public perception on autonomous vehicles. Participants will be asked questions before, during and after the ride about their experience and comfort level with the self-driving car.

“As a company that offers autonomous technology and transportation, we need to understand how the public perceives autonomy,” said Dave Hofert, Chief Marketing Officer for Perrone Robotics. The information gathered will help SAE identify areas to improve public education and understanding of self-driving cars. Hofert reports that his company’s vehicles have never had a crash.

“Frankly, autonomy is probably already on-par, if not safer, than people holding up their phones and texting (while driving),” Hofert said. “It may not be perfect, but it will be very good and a lot better than what we have.”

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles does not track whether collisions involve autonomous vehicles, according to spokesperson Alexis Bakofsky.

As of Nov. 29, California, which is one of the leading states in autonomous vehicle testing, had received 121 autonomous vehicle collision reports, according to the state’s DMV.

With the largest solar-plus-storage system operating in the U.S., Babcock Ranch isn’t shy of innovation.

“At Babcock Ranch, we’ve been preparing for the future of transportation from day one — which makes it the perfect location for this event,” said Syd Kitson, chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners. “With autonomous shuttles already in operation for more than a year, Babcock Ranch is serving as a living laboratory for cutting-edge technologies that will completely transform the way we all live.”

“I am excited that SAE International is continuing to bring this self-driving ‘hands off’ demo across Florida,” said State Sen. Jeff Brandes, who will be present at the demonstration days. “Now, the residents and future residents of Babcock Ranch will be able to experience this technology and provide feedback for what they want to see in their community as we move towards a shared, electric, and autonomous future.”

Babcock Ranch already has driverless vehicles. Namely, red, driverless shuttles that transport adults around the vicinity, Babcock Ranch spokesperson Lisa Hall confirmed.

The area also had yellow shuttles that transported kids to school, but on Oct. 19 the U.S. Department of Transportation National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ordered the company running the shuttles to stop because the vehicles had not been approved for transporting school children. Kitson said he hopes to continue using the school shuttle program in the future and will work with the NHTSA to accomplish that, the Sun reported in October.


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