A fleet of self-driving shuttle vans are coming to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Optimus Ride, a Boston-based startup, announced Wednesday that it will be rolling out the vehicles on the yard’s private roads this summer, offering a loop shuttle service to help connect incoming NYC Ferry passengers to Flushing Avenue.
“We’re pleased to be the first company to launch a self-driving vehicle program in the state of New York and, having now announced three deployments in the first quarter of 2019, are well positioned as the leader in self-driving systems for geo-fenced areas,” said Ryan Chin, the CEO and co-founder of Optimus Ride, in a statement.
The pilot will launch with a fleet of four vehicles on site, with the number increasing over time, according to a spokeswoman. The vehicles can carry either four or six people each, depending on the size. A "safety operator" also will sit in the driver’s seat, at least for the initial deployment.
"We thought we could accomplish few things: one, provide community access to the ferry, which is obviously critical. And, two, continue our efforts to be a testing ground for new technologies. We want to attract tenants and companies and technology clusters that we think have real future growth potential in terms of having jobs," said David Ehrenberg, the president and CEO of the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corp.
Gov. Cuomo announced back in 2017 that the state would accept applications to test autonomous vehicle technology on the state’s public roads and, later that year, Audi and Cadillac had performed tests in Albany and in the city, respectively.
Optimus Ride’s launch at the Brooklyn Navy Yard coincides with the city’s plan to expand its NYC Ferry service, which includes the expansion of the Astoria route to stop on the grounds. Ferry riders will be among the 9,000 workers on site who can hitch a ride, though the vehicles would seem to only be able to serve a fraction of workers and commuters on the ferry system, which operates with boats offering capacities of 140 and 350 people.
Ehrenberg said transporting commuters will be something to "figure out as it happens." He felt that at least some level of ferry riders will be workers in the yard and that accommodations can be made if there is a greater demand than usual.
"Part of the deal with Optimus is that they can expand the service as needed, and we can also augment if there’s a peak demand issue or anything like that," he added.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office offered a lukewarm response to the development. His administration has been skeptical of how the technology would fare on city roads.
“If this pilot abides by insurance and other non-traffic laws and remains confined to the Brooklyn Navy Yard — which is private — then it can operate,” said Seth Stein, a mayoral spokesman, in a statement. “The Mayor has voiced his strong opposition to testing a new technology on our busy streets.”