Driverless cars have arrived in Brooklyn. Boston-based Optimus Ride said its self-driving shuttles will this week begin serving passengers within a geofenced area at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a 300-acre shipyard and industrial complex located in northwest Brooklyn, as previously announced. The company claims it’s the first-ever self-driving vehicle deployment in New York state.
Starting tomorrow, Optimus Ride’s six-bus fleet will shuttle a portion of the thousands of passengers who commute daily from the NYC Ferry stop at Dock 72 to the Cumberland Gate at Flushing Avenue. In a press release announcing the service’s launch, Optimus Ride noted that the Navy Yard counts more than 400 businesses with over 10,000 employees among its tenants, making it an ideal proving ground for the company’s technology.
“Working with leading developments [like] and the Brooklyn Navy Yard [will] enable us to further our mission to transform mobility,” said cofounder and CEO Dr. Ryan Chin in a previous statement.
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). They tap Nvidia’s Drive AGX Xavier platform, which Nvidia — an Optimus investor — claims is capable of delivering 30 trillion operations per second.
Optimus has flown largely under the radar since October 2017, when its partnership with real estate developer LStar Ventures brought its self-driving car service to the 1,550-acre Union Point neighborhood in Weymouth, south of Boston. It’s an MIT spinout founded by a team of DARPA Urban Challenge competitors that became one of the first to secure a driverless vehicle permit from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation roughly four years ago, with tests of its 25-plus car fleet starting in Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park in Boston’s Seaport District.
Optimus piloted its suite of vehicle mapping, control, and orchestration software on the campus of the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts in late 2016. More recently, it kicked off tests within Paradise Valley Estates, a private 80-acre assisted living community located in Fairfield, California.
The company says its shuttles have completed over 20,000 trips since 2015.
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.
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.