French startup Navya, which develops autonomous shuttles and taxis, gave me a behind the scene tour. At a factory visit at their headquarters just outside of Lyon I spoke with head of marketing at Nayva, Nicolas de Crémiers.
The company in its form today was born out of the rests of the failed electric bus company Induct. The company raised 30 million Euro so far and employees around 220 employees. The company has factories in Villeurbanne in France (headquarters) and in Saline in Michigan, USA.
Two vehicles are being produced today. There is the shuttle bus offering space for 15 passengers (11 seats and 4 standing), equipped with 8 lidars and 2 cameras. Then there is the Autonom Cab, a robotaxi for 6 passengers, equipped with 10 lidars, 6 cameras, 4 radar, and 2GNSS. The lidars used are Velodyne VLS 16 and from Valeo. While the shuttles are designed for a maximum speed of 45 km/h with operation speeds of 25 km/h, mostly use at corporate and office complexes, pedestrian areas and inner cities, the Autonom Cab is designed to bring passengers from their homes to the airport. The robotaxis are thus designed for higher speeds of up to 90 km/h.
The vehicles are battery electric, with Lithium-Iron-Phosphate-batteries (LifeP04), with a capacity between 16.5 bis 33 kWh. That’s enough for up to 9 hours of Shuttlebus-operation.
In June 2018 the company has manufactured the 100th vehicle. Currently a car is manufactured in 7 production phases. Today’s production duration for a vehicle is around 2 weeks; per day 3 vehicles are finishing production. With a second production line the company wants to achieve a production total of 400 vehicles per month at their headquarters, and 200 vehicles per month at the Michigan factory.
The front and backside of the shuttles have displays attached, allowing a visual communication with pedestrians and passengers on the outside of the vehicle.
As other autonomous car manufacturers have noticed, passengers tend to pretty quikcly get bored in autonomous vehicles, because after the initial excitement those cars are operating pretty uneventful. That’s why Navya launched an idea competition in cooperation with French coding school École 42. Students are tasked to come up with ideas of how to occupy and entertain passengers of autonomous vehicles.
Navya sees itself not as an operator of bus or taxi fleets, but sees others in the role. That’s why the company is selling their cars to private and public entities. The price tag for the shuttle buses starts at 260,000 Euro, for the Autonom Cab at 350,000 Euro. Supervisors are available 24/7 monitoring the vehicles and interfering in case of troubles. Transportation service providers such as Swiss Post or Keolis Navya partners.
While the vehicles can be remotely monitored, due to security reasons the software uploads and downloads can only be done outside of operations.
While talking about security: each cabin is equipped with cameras pointing to the vehicle’s inside. Before the shuttles can be deployed, high precision maps of the operation area are created. The shuttles can either drive a predefined route with fix stops, or can also be requested per app to stop at a pickup point.
Many country are already using or testing Navya’s vehicles, at the top is Switzerland with 10 shuttles in operation today. The vehicles can be requested with a special Navya app. In 2018 the first Autonom Cabs are expected to be deployed in Perth, Australia, in Lyon in France, and in the U.S.
Currently, the Lyon suburb Confluence has 2 Navya-shuttles in a test operation. Those vehicles have to be able to deal with inattentive pedestrians, reckless bicyclists, and some cheeky sparrows, which can trigger the sensors and stop the vehicle.
Navya expects that by 2025 the annual global market for such types of vehicles is at 34,000. Before that can happen, some legal roadblocks have to be removed. French lawmakers are preparing a law to take effect in 2019 that shall allow the commercial operation of autonomous vehicles on French roads. So far companies developing that technology have to get separate licenses from each community.
At the end of the visit, Nicolas shared an interesting last detail with me. He told me that only 20 percent of employees working at Navya have a drivers license. Only 20 percent!
This article has also been published in German.