Yesterday afternoon, I rode an autonomous shuttle down a short section of Broadway in the heart of Times Square, and it was easily the most boring part of my day. I’m not saying that because my life is particularly exciting, either. The trip was boring because everything inside the Coast Autonomous P-1 worked exactly the way it was supposed to: the shuttle crawled up to a barricade on 47th St., paused for a bit, and scooted back in the opposite direction toward 48th. In this case, the vehicle wasn’t completely autonomous — Coast CTO Pierre Lefevre manually started each leg of a trip with an Xbox Elite controller — but the P-1 navigated its surroundings all own its own.
That short trip was one of many small-scale tests the company has put on over the years, all of which speak to the commercial viability of tiny, driverless buses. I can’t imagine those tests were any more exciting. The P-1 isn’t ready for roads just yet, but it’s a fascinating taste of what the future of urban transit could look like: simple, straightforward and easy to accept. For a company like Coast, that’s the best kind of boring.
Coincidentally, the shuttle itself doesn’t look like much, either. It’s basically a big, self-enclosed golf cart with massive tinted windows. Since the shuttle scoots around bi-directionally, there’s no discernable front or back — it’s the same all the way around. Meanwhile, a white, ring-like bench hugs the interior walls, and a pair of roof-mounted grab rails sit directly across from a display for route information. Coast says up to 20 people can fit inside (assuming some people choose to stand) but I wouldn’t want to ride one of these things with more than 10 or 12 people inside.