Beep, Beep ...
Tradition developer moving its residents in nontraditional method
BY RACHEL CUCCURULLO
As Tradition, the master-planned community, continues to expand its storefronts, housing developments and events calendar, so it does its many amenities. The area has great walking trails, parks, playgrounds and offers a state-of-the-art driverless shuttle, known by the acronym TIM [Tradition In Motion]. Sponsored by Mattamy Homes, it is maintained by Beep, an autonomous mobility solutions company based in the Orlando area.
Many folks are a bit apprehensive when they hear autonomous vehicle or driverless shuttle, as it is unfamiliar territory. But Beep is upfront about the technology and keeps to high standards for safety and rider education. The company has successfully launched and maintains 15 driverless shuttles in seven different Florida locations.
Racquel Asa, chief marketing officer at Beep, is proud of the company’s work to help connect communities and educate people on autonomous vehicle technology.
“I think that the average person is nervous about driverless vehicles, which is why it is so important to inform our riders on this wonderful technology,” Asa said. “Not only are our vehicles fully equipped with scanners, sensors and cameras, but we always have a highly trained human attendant onboard each vehicle.”
The attendants are very knowledgeable on the shuttle’s abilities and can take over to manually steer and move the shuttle when necessary. So, it is not entirely reliant on the autonomous programming and that bit of humanity makes riders more confident.
TWO DIFFERENT ROUTES
In December, TIM started its service in the community and has been well-received. There are two separate shuttles that follow two different routes; The Indigo Line brings riders from the center of Tradition Square to the retail shops at The Landing and The Teal Line brings residents of the Manderlie Community into Tradition Square.
Riders can enjoy several stops on each route to enter and exit as they please. People can do their grocery shopping, retail shopping or sightsee while helping the environment.
“Our Lake Nona shuttle [Move Nona], moved 16,000 people in its first year alone,” Asa said. “That’s roughly the equivalent of 9,100 vehicle trips, all while producing zero CO2 emissions. We are hoping to produce the same effect here, in Tradition.”
The sleek, modern shuttles have 360-degree views through their wide, open windows and are kept spotless inside and out. Mattamy Homes worked with Beep and chose an indigo, teal and white color scheme for the vehicles. They stand out well-enough for folks to turn their heads in interest, but not too much so that they don’t blend right in with the innovative community.
Although the autonomous vehicle starting running in the middle of a pandemic, TIM attendant, Danilo Silva, says people have been enjoying the ride.
“We get a lot of first-time riders and many of them have a lot of questions, which I am always happy to answer,” Silva said. “After they experience that first ride, most people are hooked.”
Enter a young couple, excited to ride TIM for the second time in just a 24-hour period. Cloé Sosa and Owen Ocon were having a casual date-night when they saw the shuttle after dinner and approached.
“Honestly, we both thought it was completely driverless and that sort of freaked us out until the attendant spoke with us. He was so friendly,” Sosa said. “We asked a thousand questions because we were concerned about safety, but also very excited and interested to ride something like this.”
MONITORED ALL THE TIME
Both Sosa and Ocon were surprised to learn that the vehicles are constantly monitored by engineers at the Beep Command Center in Orlando. Not only that, but the command center can communicate with passengers and attendant or override the vehicle’s system if necessary. These added safety features ensure that riders are kept safe and can enjoy a smooth ride, always.
“We must have drowned the attendant with questions,” Ocon said. “We know it takes 2-4 hours to fully charge; if it rains, the attendant does take over to drive manually; and there are so many sensors that it stops quickly, even if something like a small bird were to fly by.”
One of the more unique features about the shuttle is its ability to learn and react to its environment. Eventually, the goal is to have the shuttle communicate with the stoplights in order to free an attendant from having to manually drive it through intersections.
“Something like that could take a little while as far as engineering goes and software would need to be uploaded and downloaded to various systems in order for them to work cohesively,” Asa said. “There are multiple steps taken prior to getting an autonomous shuttle on the road. There are developmental, technical and operational standards that must be met and then implemented in order to guarantee a safe ride.”
Software for the shuttle is kept up to date — sometimes these updates are prompted to be downloaded multiple times a day. The attendant is notified, accepts and it usually takes a mere 30-45 seconds.
FOLLOWING PANDEMIC RULES
In the time of COVID-19, Beep has worked tirelessly to ensure that riders and employees alike are kept safe. They have created additional, extensive sanitization measures, are monitoring and adjusting the number of riders per vehicle and require attendants to wear masks.
“We do clean each vehicle before, during and after every shift to ensure everything is clean,” Silva says, “We wipe down the seats and handles and we provide hand sanitizer for guests.”
Currently, parties who arrived in the same car are allowed to remain seated together, but must still maintain appropriate social distance from the attendant. Each vehicle can normally seat up to eight people, standing and sitting, but shuttles are only allowing six passengers per ride due to the pandemic.
“One of the things we have done as a company, is that we made a very conscious effort to safety,” Asa says, “We have found that when it comes to autonomous shuttles, there’s often a skepticism just regarding ‘autonomous’ as a whole.”
For instance, a seatbelt is required to be worn while riding the shuttle and the attendant always make sures that riders buckle-up before moving. There are fire extinguishers, first aid kits and emergency escape hammers aboard every vehicle as well.
Beep also worked with the Port St. Lucie Police Department to train and educate officers on what TIM is and how to respond in cases of an emergency. This extra show of support from the community will most definitely ensure the shuttle’s success and expansion.
“I think the shuttle is awesome and it’s really interesting to see technology like this in-person,” Sosa said, “We’ve already told a bunch of people about it and I know we will ride it a lot more, especially since I live in Tradition.”
TIM has been received quite well and has already gathered several regulars who ride in to buy groceries or for recreational activities. Mattamy Homes hopes to help in TIM’s expansion. The goal is to provide additional routes and eventually bring electric bikes to Tradition as well. Such offerings are not only fun for residents but also help to create awareness of more environmentally friendly modes of transport.
TIM OPERATING SCHEDULE
Sunday: 12-6 p.m.
Monday through Friday: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m.
Saturday: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m.