Polaris' electric GEM vehicles go driverless in Detroit
September 17, 2017 Dee DePass
[images / May Mobility
Robotics expert May Mobility outfitted Polaris’ electric GEM vehicles with
self-driving technology that it will test in downtown Detroit from Oct. 9 to
The robotics expert May Mobility outfitted Polaris Industries' electric GEM
vehicles with autonomous driving technology. Pilot test will run Oct. 9-13
in downtown Detroit. Test is being run for Bedrock LLC, which is considering
starting a driverless shuttle service for its Detroit employees
Two electric vehicles made by Polaris Industries that have been outfitted
with autonomous-driving software and sensors are headed to Detroit, where
they will roll their way along city streets for a week.
The test, by robotics firm May Mobility and Bedrock LLC, a Detroit
commercial real estate firm owned by billionaire Dan Gilbert, begins Oct.
For safety purposes, the vehicles will have human drivers on board. But
unless there is an emergency, the actual driving will be left to the
The low-speed, six-seater shuttles were made by Polaris’ GEM division and
are outfitted with May Mobility’s software and sensors. A team from May
Mobility and 12 Polaris employees were involved in bringing about the big
During the five-day test, the autonomous shuttles will ferry Bedrock’s
workers to and from their offices and parking ramps around downtown Detroit.
By law, the GEM vehicles can only travel 25 miles per hour on public streets
with 35 mph signage.
“We are doing just three hours of service a day,” said May Mobility CEO
Edwin Olson from his Ann Arbor office. “For us, this pilot is really about
making contact with the ball. Autonomous vehicles are new. There is a lot of
stuff for us to learn about the technology.”
Officials of Medina-based Polaris said next month’s test in Detroit will
mark its 16th project pairing its electric vehicles with autonomous
driving, though the company remains much better known for ATVs.
For May Mobility, its partnership with Bedrock, which is bankrolling the
test, is its “first customer relationship and we are really excited about
moving this from a pilot to a full deployment,” Olson said.
If successful, May Mobility will buy more Polaris GEM vehicles and outfit
them with the wires, sensors, tracking devices, dash displays and software
conversions to create a fleet of driverless shuttles throughout downtown
Detroit, where Bedrock has roughly 200 properties and scores of workers that
could benefit from the “gee whiz” transportation option.
Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Tesla, Google, and Uber are among those
racing to develop semi- and fully autonomous vehicles in hopes of carving
out a chunk of the $11 trillion transportation industry.
Frank Douma, a policy program director at the University of Minnesota’s
Humphrey School of Public Affairs, said every company in Silicon Valley and
Detroit is salivating over the money that could be made by helping to reduce
and eventually eliminate the need for bus, taxi and other city drivers.
Market research firm Navigant Research recently predicted that 90 million
light-duty vehicles with driverless features will be on the road by 2027. It
also predicted that 129 million autonomous-capable vehicles will be sold
between 2020 and 2035. Interest is high, especially among the ride-sharing
community, said Navigant senior research analyst David Alexander in a
“Studies have shown that an autonomous fleet can effectively replace a much
larger number of private vehicles in a city center, which represent both
opportunity and challenge for original equipment manufacturers,” he said.
It’s a long way off, but May Mobility’s Olson may be just the guy to help
Detroit inch toward a robotic transit system. Olson, associate professor of
computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, is the
former principal investigator of Ford’s autonomous vehicle program. He is
also the former co-director of autonomous driving for the Toyota Research
With investors’ help, he formed May Mobility in January 2017 to work toward
launching fleets of autonomous vehicles that can provide the basic
transportation needs of entire cities. “We have grand ambitions to market
short trips in densely populated communities and on campuses,” Olson said.
“We have a long customer pipeline with other pilot tests scheduled for the
next six months. We’re excited.”
The Detroit test will be a big boost for Polaris, which is better known for
its mud-churning ATVs, motorcycles and snowmobiles than for its electric
vehicles. The company, which generates $4.5 billion in annual sales, has
little reputation for autonomous prowess.
“I knew Polaris had the capability to do many things. But I didn’t know they
were openly in the game of autonomous vehicles,” said Douma at the Humphrey
School. “So this is kind of fun to hear that Minnesota companies are now
jumping into the ring.”
The holy grail that innovators chase involves a system where anyone could
use a cellphone app to order up a driverless car that safely picks and drops
customers at their designations — all day long, Douma said. “Everybody talks
about disruptive technology. And this really is. It’s a fun time to be in
Polaris bought its GEM line of tiny electric cars from Chrysler in 2011 and
quickly boosted sales to retirement communities, universities, golf courses
and resorts. Over time, Polaris toyed with combining its electric prowess
with possible driverless features. It’s been a process, said Polaris
spokesman Evan Miller.
In 2011 and 2012, Polaris worked with the U.S. military to help create a
robot-driven ATV. The Army’s goal was to build a rugged vehicle that could
quickly respond to disasters without risking human life. After years of
military tests and experiments, Polaris’ driverless research now continues
on civilian vehicles.
In 2013, Polaris started talking to Olson at the University of Michigan
about possibilities. By 2015, Polaris’ GEM engineers were also working with
universities in Santa Clara and San Diego and with a company called Auro
Robotics. That firm “had two GEM vehicles and they started slowly working to
make them into autonomous vehicles,” said Polaris product manager Patrick
Today, in addition to the 16 pilot tests, Polaris has even more research
projects including one at the University of Minnesota, said Weldon. He
declined to disclose Polaris’ investment into driverless technology but
noted “It is in the millions. It’s significant.”
[© 2017 StarTribune]
Driverless Shuttles Hit the Streets of Detroit
September 19, 2017 Two electric vehicles made by Polaris Industries that
have been outfitted with autonomous-driving software and sensors are headed
to Detroit, where ... human drivers on board. But ... actual driving will be
left to the machines ... Polaris worked with the U.S. military to help
create a robot-driven ATV ... Auro Robotics ... had two GEM vehicles and
they started slowly working to make them ... auton ...
Polaris Industries' electric vehicles go driverless to ferry downtown
Sept. 23, 2017 Two electric vehicles made by Polaris Industries that have
been outfitted with autonomous-driving software and sensors are headed to
Detroit, where they will ...
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