A Silicon Valley start-up company launched its first self-driving taxi service on Wednesday at a 55+ retirement community in San Jose, CA.
“This amazing community has over 4,000 residents, 15 miles of challenging road, and tons of points of interest,” Voyage’s CEO Oliver Cameron wrote about The Villages Golf and Country Club in a blog post. “Residents can summon one of three Voyage self-driving cars and travel effortlessly and autonomously around the community.”
Voyage is a spin-off of online education company Udacity.
Wednesday’s taxi-service launch is a rollout after a pilot test at The Villages. The company’s ultimate goal is to develop an “ultra-low cost transportation network,” and retirement communities are a good place to start, Cameron said. Such communities often are private property, and roads have low speed limits.
“By starting small, we can iterate and deliver on a product with a speed and focus that we just couldn’t do on public streets,” Cameron said.
The self-driving cars are “learning” how to drive better by traveling several miles each day and encountering the community’s intersections, crosswalks, lanes, traffic circles, construction projects, pedestrians, U-turns, one-way streets, pets and other vehicles, he said.
Voyage plans to expand the service to other retirement communities before tackling cities.
At The Villages, the taxi service’s first passenger was Beverly Clifford, the CEO said.
“As a blind resident of The Villages, Bev encounters daily friction with transportation,” Cameron said. “To get around, Bev relies heavily on her husband and their car, so if her husband isn’t free, neither is Bev. With Voyage’s Voiceover-enabled iPhone app, Bev can now summon a self-driving taxi to her doorstep and travel freely in the community.”
Cameron said the company looks forward to learning from future passengers, too.
Senior living communities have been looking beyond the traditional community bus to meet the transportation needs of residents. Operators such as Ascension Living, Brookdale Senior Living and Sunshine Retirement Living have offered programs with on-demand ride company Lyft, and Revera was among operators experimenting with an Uber service.