May Mobility advances AV accessibility, leads industry with development of first ADA-compliant Toyota Sienna Autono-MaaS

The autonomous vehicle (AV) technology company is partnering with BraunAbility, the world’s largest manufacturer of mobility solutions, to develop and deploy the first ADA-compliant AVs to the public by late 2022.

 

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – May Mobility, a leader in autonomous vehicle (AV) technology and ride-share operations, is putting accessibility at the forefront and partnering with BraunAbility, the world’s leading manufacturer of mobility transportation solutions, to modify the May Mobility Toyota Sienna Autono-MaaS (S-AM) fleet to include ADA-compliant vehicles. 

This is part of May Mobility’s broader vision of improving accessibility and equity in transit through autonomous driving technology. The company is also integrating assistive technology within the vehicle cabin through speakers and a display to help people with audio and/or visual impairments see and hear when it is safe to enter and exit the vehicle.

A May Mobility autonomous vehicle with BraunAbility's ADA-compliant wheelchair ramp.

A May Mobility Toyota Sienna Autono-MaaS outfitted with a BraunAbility ADA-compliant wheelchair ramp.

Ensuring that autonomous vehicles are developed in a way that advances transportation equity goals is a key pillar for May Mobility,” said Erin McCurry, product manager and accessibility lead at May Mobility. “In the U.S., 3.6 million people do not leave their homes because of travel-limiting disabilities. As we transition our fleet to the Sienna Autono-MaaS platform, we are working towards a future where everyone has access to safe, reliable transportation.”

The partnership with BraunAbility will produce an ADA-compliant, rear-entry conversion of May Mobility’s S-AM vehicles. The vehicles will be able to carry two ambulatory (non-wheelchair users) riders along with a rider using a wheelchair, or four ambulatory riders. 

“Our founder, Ralph Braun, began engineering the very first automotive mobility solutions over 50 years ago,” stated BraunAbility CEO Staci Kroon. “Just like the evolution of automotive mobility, autonomous travel for wheelchair users is a journey of evolving technology. BraunAbility and May Mobility begin that new evolution together, and our solutions will be accessible to every wheelchair user.”

In addition to providing accessibility features for riders using mobility devices, May Mobility will also enhance the Sienna’s interior with audio and visual cues to inform riders of key journey moments, such as arriving at a stop, doors opening and closing, and departure.

“Designing for people with disabilities makes the entire product easier to use for everyone. We’re excited to launch these assistive technology features in every single new vehicle,” said McCurry.

The first modified S-AM vehicles will be phased in at all existing May Mobility sites in 2022. The partnership between May Mobility and BraunAbility lays the groundwork for further development and deployment of ADA-compliant vehicles and technologies in the future.

S-AM is Toyota’s autonomous-mobility as a service (Autono-MaaS) vehicle based on the Sienna that is being utilized for May Mobility’s public road testing. It features Toyota’s highly adaptable Vehicle Control Interface (VCI), that enables seamless technology integration with May Mobility’s autonomous driving kit (ADK) for robust operation of key vehicle control systems, such as steering, brakes and acceleration.

Part engineer, part problem solver: Bringing May to a city requires listening, testing and adjusting

Months ahead of any May Mobility deployment, a small, agile team of engineers begin scouting, mapping and, eventually, defining service areas and routes for each new city. These highly skilled professionals, known as Field Autonomy Engineers (FAEs), work in two-person teams at each new deployment to ensure the service is fully capable of meeting the community’s transportation needs. Key members of the team from the moment May Mobility defines a potential new deployment and throughout the entire deployment process, FAEs ensure a city’s launch is technologically and logistically feasible, making an upfront investment in time, energy and resources to identify, define and perfect each service.

A field autonomy engineer speaks with a rider in a downtown area near a May Mobility autonomous vehicle.

A field autonomy engineer speaks with a potential rider.

Hearing the Community

The saying that you should listen to understand rather than to respond rings true for May Mobility’s onboarding phase with a new city.

“FAEs develop relationships with the customer and other stakeholders early on to really get to know them,” explains Austin Dillow, a May Mobility FAE who worked on the Arlington, TX, deployment among others. “We work closely over the course of two or three months to understand a community intimately, learning the existing pain points in a city’s transportation infrastructure, where a service is most needed and what that service should look like.” 

Dialogue between the local transportation authorities and various community stakeholders is important as FAEs define which roads the service will drive on to ensure the most effective route. Using a combination of this local input and public transit data, FAEs match potential routes with the service’s capabilities.

“We work to figure out what the best combination of roads, stops and routes is for the service that May can provide the community,” said Field Engineering Manager Jay Miles.

Testing the Route

Once a route has been roughly defined, FAEs map routes to fine tune the path. FAEs “learn by doing,” Miles says. In a manual process, FAEs go through mapping, testing, and refinement stages, driving the roads autonomously repeatedly to help ensure the autonomous technology is given the necessary inputs to operate on its own. Local conditions present unique challenges with different traffic rules and local driving quirks. For example, in some cities or states, aggressive left turns are common and expected. Likewise, in some areas pedestrians are more likely to wait for a crosswalk to turn in their favor, while in others pedestrians are likely to jump in at the first sign of an opening in traffic.

“We help our vehicle be able to infer what it needs to do and what other vehicles and pedestrians are going to do,” Miles explained. “By giving the vehicle that information, we’re able to allow the underlying behavioral algorithms to estimate not only what it needs to do to get to its next stop, but what a person in a car across an intersection is likely to do.” 

Adjusting to Perfection

Constant communication between the FAEs, the cities and other stakeholders ensures that FAEs are informing vehicles not only on current traffic patterns and data, but also anticipated changes — such as scheduled road construction or influxes in pedestrian traffic such as the return of students on college campuses.

When the route is finalized, FAEs work to help hire and train a new local team, and act as technical experts and resources to the new teams onsite. Once a deployment begins, FAEs stay onsite temporarily to ensure a smooth launch and to address any questions from the field team as well as local stakeholders. Once the transition to the local team is complete, FAEs remain in touch and work collaboratively to maintain the integrity of the geofenced operational areas, visiting sites on a regular schedule to collect data, solicit feedback and maintain strong relationships with the customer and local team. 

“After a successful initial deployment, we empower the local team to take over daily operations, while also staying in touch to ensure the deployment is successful for the entire duration of its lifespan,” Miles said. 

Arlington Deployment: Year-One Lookback and Renewal through 2024

We’re thrilled to announce that after a successful one-year pilot, Arlington RAPID has been renewed through 2024. 

Arlington RAPID is the first program in the U.S. to integrate on-demand, autonomous vehicles (AVs)  into an existing transportation service. Created in partnership with the City of Arlington, Via, and University of Texas at Arlington (UT Arlington) using May Mobility’s fleet, the service provided more than 28,000 rides in its first year to residents, university students and visitors around Downtown and the UT Arlington campus.

Arlington RAPID reported a 99 percent on-time performance, and our vehicles operated fully autonomously 80 percent of the time. With a 98 percent rider-satisfaction rating, it’s clear that the community embraced the pilot program.

“May Mobility and Arlington share a commitment to creating great transit through shared, on-demand autonomous vehicles,” said Edwin Olson, CEO of May Mobility. “May is excited to continue serving the Arlington community, and the learnings from this successful deployment will not only help advance our AV technology, but also enhance our service offerings at future sites around the world.”

Our proprietary AV technology, our Multi-Policy Decision Making (MPDM) system, is designed and implemented with the goal of transforming cities by making transportation safer, easier, more equitable and accessible. First-year results show that more than 60 percent of riders use RAPID to access essential destinations like medical facilities, school or employment opportunities, demonstrating that the service is filling critical transportation gaps and expands equitable access to transit across the city – directly in line with our goals and mission.

While the first year of service was made possible through a grant from the Federal Transit Administration, the deployment’s renewal is thanks to additional grant support from the North Central Texas Council of Governments. The new grant came through its AV program, which seeks to support and expand AV planning, testing and deployment in the region. RAPID was one of four projects selected in the program’s second round. The grant will allow RAPID to operate for two more years, as well as add vehicles with higher seating capacity and enable us to move further towards our goal of driver-out operations in the city.

“The North Texas Council of Governments is strongly supportive of efforts like Arlington’s RAPID service, provided by May Mobility, to advance automated transportation technology and provide the public with more and improved mobility options,” said Thomas Bamonte, NCTCOG’s senior program manager of transportation technology and innovation. “NCTCOG is pleased to support two additional years of RAPID and assist Arlington and May Mobility in making North Texas a center for automated transportation innovation.”

Check out the official renewal announcement here.

Want to catch a ride? Learn more about the route here.