Earlier this year, Optimus Ride, an autonomous technology startup based in Boston, partnered with Brookfield Properties to deploy three driverless cars in the Reston, Virginia mixed-use development of Halley Rise. Now, Optimus is setting its sights on Northern California and Brooklyn.
Optimus today announced that it’ll deploy a small fleet of self-driving cars on private roads in Brooklyn Navy Yard, a 300-acre modern industrial park housing over 400 manufacturing businesses, and within Paradise Valley Estates, a private 80-acre assisted living community located in Fairfield, California.
At the Yard — starting in the second quarter of 2019, in what Optimus claims will be the first commercial driverless taxi deployment in the state of New York — cars will ferry riders from the New York City Ferry to Flushing Avenue, just beyond the park’s perimeter. And at Paradise Valley, they’ll provide visitors with self-driving tours of the grounds and allow residents to reserve rides between homes, to Paradise’s community and health center, and to on-property activities.
“We are excited to announce not one, but two self-driving vehicle deployments,” said Optimus Ride CEO and cofounder Dr. Ryan Chin. “Working with leading developments and communities like Paradise Valley Estates and the Brooklyn Navy Yard enable us to further our mission to transform mobility.”
Chin, who formerly led the City Science Initiative at the MIT Media Lab, said Optimus’ cars will be capable of level 4 autonomous driving, meaning they’ll operate with limited human input and oversight in specific conditions and locations (as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers). As previously announced, they’ll tap Nvidia’s Drive AGX Xavier platform, which Nvidia — an Optimus investor — claims is capable of delivering 30 trillion operations per second.
Optimus is an MIT spinout founded by a team of DARPA Urban Challenge competitors and other autonomous driving engineers, and it has flown mostly under the radar since October 2017, when its partnership with real estate developer LStar Ventures brought self-driving car service to the 1,550-acre Union Point neighborhood. Optimus became one of the first companies to secure a driverless vehicle permit from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation in 2016, with tests of its 25-plus car fleet starting in Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park in the Seaport District. And it first piloted its software — a suite capable of mapping, controlling vehicles, coordinating vehicle fleets, detecting and avoiding objects, and more — on the campus of the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts.
Optimus operates much like May Mobility, a startup that develops an autonomous vehicle stack and works with manufacturers to install it in low-speed, compact fleets, and French company Navya, which has sold 67 driverless shuttles in 16 countries. Like May and Navya, Optimus says it can integrate its white label autonomous system into “any vehicle type” — for now, lightweight cars that fit a handful of passengers — and it sees cities, public transit systems, and ride-sharing services as potential customers.
If all goes according to plan, it’ll join an exclusive club of companies that have deployed level 4 autonomous passenger cars and taxis. Baidu launched level 4 autonomous shuttle buses in more than 10 regions across China earlier this year, and Google spinoff Waymo has tested level 4 vehicles on passengers participating in its Early Rider Program in Chandler, Arizona. Startup Drive.ai, meanwhile, is operating fleets of level 4 cars in Arlington and Frisco, Texas.
In November 2017, Optimus announced an $18 million funding round led by Greycroft Partners, with participation from Emerson Collective, Fraser McCombs Capital, and MIT Media Lab director Joi Ito. To date, it has raised $23.25 million.