AV Progress Under the Radar: May Mobility

Article By : Egil Juliussen

May Mobility's AV technology is unique and promising. Its real-time simulation of other road-user future actions looks like an excellent strategy for safe operation.

May Mobility is focused on autonomous vehicle (AV) shuttles for fixed routes and flexible routes like on-demand services in a specified area. It has become the leader in the U.S., with a growing number of tests and paid commercial trials. The company has completed more than 320,000 paid rides. The fee is primarily from companies, transportation firms, and government agencies.

May Mobility’s positioning in the AV industry is different from robotaxis and robotrucks, with minimal attention and quietly making progress. The company has drawn investments from two insurance companies, at least two auto OEMs, several Japanese companies, and traditional VC firms.

May Mobility has a unique technology approach to operating its AV shuttles. The approach merits more attention from the rest of the AV industry.

Below is a summary of May Mobility’s activities, with more specific details in additional tables.

May Mobility was founded in 2017 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, by founders with extensive experience from DARPA and other AV projects. It has received funding of $194 million with the latest VC investment of $111 million, the company told the press.

It has VC funding from 22 companies, including Toyota, BMW, and SAIC (a leading Chinese auto manufacturer). Other notable investors are two insurance companies, Tokio Marine and State Farm; LG Technologies; and two Japanese companies, Bridgestone and Softbank.

May Mobility is focused on adoption of mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) in business-to-government and business-to-business segments. The company sells its low-speed shuttle services to cities and businesses. Most of its trials receive revenue from these partners and often include grants from local and federal funding.

May Mobility’s strategy is to demonstrate how quickly AV shuttle services can supplement public transportation in cities with limited buses, subways, or other services.

May Mobility has several strategic partners, with Toyota being the most important, as described below. Monet is a key partner for MaaS trials in Japan. Bridgestone provides local MaaS support for the U.S. city trials.

May Mobility has done MaaS trials and deployments in nine cities. Many of these activities have ended.

Below is a summary of May Mobility’s AV technology, including the vehicles that have been used in city trials.

MAY MOBILITY AV PLATFORM

May Mobility’s AV platform is unique and shows great potential—at least for AV shuttle operation. It is called Multi-Policy Decision-Making (MPDM). See the company’s YouTube video on MPDM.

Every shuttle has a suite of redundant sensor technologies, combining five LiDARs, five radars, and seven cameras for a 360˚ view of the activities around the shuttles. Shuttles have a top LiDAR and four side LiDARs.

What distinguishes May Mobility is how the AV software treats the sensor inputs via the MPDM technology. Essentially, MPDM simulates what the road users may do over the next 15–20 seconds and uses this information to pick a safe outcome from all the possible simulation choices. May Mobility says the shuttles literally imagine every possible scenario—every millisecond.

The AV simulator runs about 30,000× faster than real time and builds an image of the surrounding traffic and reviews thousands of simulations to determine what other road users are most likely to do, including their interaction with each other. By simulating 10- to 15-second future options, the AV system can see the likely outcomes of road-user interactions—even in scenarios not seen before. May believes this is similar to how people drive.

May Mobility used the Polaris Gem BEV in its MaaS trials starting in 2018. May used Lexus RX450h hybrid SUVs and wheelchair-accessible Polaris Gems for its trials starting in 2021. It is now using Toyota’s Sienna minivan for its AV shuttles.

In its next-generation AV shuttle, May Mobility will use the Toyota e-Palette. The e-Palette is a purpose-built vehicle platform for AV use cases and is well suited for MaaS shuttles.

May Mobility will continue collaborating with Toyota, with more deployments coming in late 2022 with the Sienna Autono-MaaS vehicle platform and preliminary development on Toyota’s e-Palette mobility platform.

May has projects with Monet and SoftBank for future routes in Tokyo. May Mobility plans to start testing without a safety driver in 2023.

May Mobility and Via provide on-demand shared AV services using Via’s TransitTech platform with May’s AV shuttles. The TransitTech platform provides AV routing, fleet management, booking, routing, passenger, and vehicle assignment.

MAY MOBILITY CITY TRIALS

May Mobility has provided AV shuttle pilot services in nine cities, which are summarized below. Some pilots are still running. The pilot testing service has completed rides for over 320,000 passengers. In November 2021, all of May Mobility’s 30 AV shuttles in operations used a safety driver on board.Detroit, Michigan

In June 2018, Detroit became the city for May Mobility’s first shuttle operation. The AV shuttle route connected parking garages and downtown offices. This was a commercial project with Bedrock and Quicken Loans in Detroit.

The rides were only open to Bedrock employees near a few of the company’s Detroit offices. A shuttle arrived at each stop every four to six minutes from 5 a.m. to midnight on weekdays. The AV shuttles had 10,000 passengers in the first 75 days of operation. Total passenger count is not available. The service ended in 2020.

The Polaris Gem shuttles with May Mobility’s AV system was completed with Magna doing system integration and adding drive-by-wire systems to prepare the vehicles for AV use.

Columbus, Ohio

The Smart Columbus project awarded May Mobility a contract to operate a free AV shuttle in downtown Columbus starting December 2018. The trial was called Smart Circuit and ran until September 2019 and provided over 16,000 passenger rides. Six AV shuttles operated with four stops approximately every 10 minutes in what’s known as the Scioto Mile loop. Operating hours were from 6 a..m to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Smart Columbus’s second shuttle was named the Linden LEAP (Linden Empowers All People), which launched February 2020 and operated for about two weeks before an on-board incident paused passenger operations. When the pandemic arrived, the AV mission changed to launching a food pantry delivery service from July 2020 to April 2021. This service used two AV shuttles with four stops. This service distributed 3,598 food pantry boxes, equivalent to almost 130,000 meals.

Providence, Rhode Island

May Mobility launched its AV shuttle service in May 2019 in Providence. The service used Polaris Gem AV shuttles that ran seven days a week. The service was a key link between a transit station and downtown Providence. Shuttles operated as part of the Little Roady pilot program that was free and open to the public.

Rhode Island paid May Mobility $800,000 for the first year of operations. The shuttles made 12 stops along a route of about six miles. Providence was the third U.S. city with May Mobility self-driving shuttles. The shuttles operated between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. The service ended in 2020.

Grand Rapids, Michigan

The service was launched in coordination with public and private partners in Grand Rapids and the Autonomous Vehicle Grand Rapids (AVGR). It began as a fixed AV route with 20 stops in a 3.2-square-mile area and operated as a complement to the city’s existing DASH West bus route. The service was launched in 2019 with a fleet of four electric Polaris Gem shuttles and one wheelchair-accessible Gem.

In July 2021, the service was upgraded to on-demand service using Via with a fleet of four Lexus RX 450h and one Polaris Gem for wheelchair rides. The free on-demand service was available to riders via the May Mobility app and was a partnership between May Mobility, Mobile GR, and Gentex Corporation. The pilot service ended in April 2022. Over 70,000 rides had been taken when it ended.

Hiroshima, Japan

In Hiroshima, May Mobility started operating AVs in March 2021 on a 1.9-mile route on the campus of Hiroshima University. In subsequent phases of the project, the service area will increase and incorporate on-demand service and mixed-use mobility services of passenger rides and grocery delivery. The overall goal of the project is to show a practical application of mobility-as-a-service. May Mobility used Polaris Gem AVs with seven cameras, five LiDARs, and five radars.

Arlington, Texas

The Arlington RAPID service integrates on-demand AVs into an existing public transportation service. It has provided over 28,000 trips in its first year to residents, university students, and visitors around downtown and the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) campus. The Federal Transit Administration provided a $1.7 million grant to the City of Arlington for the project. May Mobility operates a fleet of AV shuttles, including one wheelchair-accessible AV, into Via’s existing on-demand public-transit service app.

Arlington RAPID is a partnership between May Mobility, Via, City of Arlington, and UTA. It operates Monday through Friday from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. May Mobility uses four Lexus RX 450h SUVs and one Polaris Gem for wheelchair rides. The Arlington RAPID AV shuttle service has been renewed through 2024 with grant support from the North Central Texas Council of Governments. The grant will allow RAPID to operate for two more years and add vehicles with higher seating capacity.

A case study of Arlington’s first year operation is available here.

Indianapolis & Fishers, Indiana

This pilot, called Together in Motion, started in June 2021 and was operated by May Mobility to provide rides in the Indianapolis area. There were two concurrent pilots, in Indianapolis from June 2021 to November 2021 and in Fishers from December 2021 to June 2022. The pilot was a partnership between May Mobility, Toyota Mobility Foundation, Energy Systems Network, IEDC, and City of Fishers. May Mobility’s fleet used five Lexus RX 450h vehicles and one Polaris Gem BEV that was equipped to carry wheelchairs. Operational hours were Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Indianapolis and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in Fishers.

Ann Arbor, Michigan

The autonomous shuttle service is called A2GO, and is a collaboration with Mcity, a University of Michigan AV test facility, and SPARK, a nonprofit that supports economic development in Southeast Michigan. The service covers some of Ann Arbor’s densest areas and the Blake Transit Center—Ann Arbor bus and Amtrak train station. AV shuttles are available at 18 designated stops and can be hailed via an app.

May Mobility uses five AV shuttles operating in a 2.64-square-mile area. The A2GO service use four hybrid-electric Lexus RX 450h vehicles and one Polaris Gem BEV with capacity for one wheelchair passenger. The free service is available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The service is ongoing.

SUMMARY

May Mobility is the leader in AV shuttles for MaaS use cases. It is a five-year–old company with significant recent VC investment along with well-established partners. It has done MaaS trials and deployments in nine cities, with more to come in 2022. It has completed over 320,000 passenger trips since June 2018.

May Mobility is working with Toyota and is converting its AV shuttles to Toyota Sienna minivans in 2022 and preparing to use Toyota e-Palette in the future.

May Mobility’s AV technology is unique and promising. Its real-time simulation of other road-user future actions looks like an excellent strategy for safe operation. This AV simulation approach can probably be used in other AV use cases.

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