August 6, 2020 – Fairfax County, Virginia is currently testing the first driverless public transportation vehicles in the Washington DC region. The 100-percent electric vehicles are also equipped with EMTRAC Transit Signal Priority (TSP) to safely decrease wait times at intersections.
The Relay vehicle is produced through a partnership between Fairfax County and Dominion Energy. Relay is capable of carrying 12 passengers, six seated and six standing. It can travel up to 12.5 miles per hour, and passengers will ride for free on a loop between the Dunn Loring Metrorail station to Merrifield, just outside the Capital Beltway. Testing will likely continue for several weeks before Relay will be commissioned to carry passengers.
In addition to EMTRAC TSP, Relay is equipped with the latest proven safety features. It relies on multiple sensors (localization lasers, GPS, odometry, and cameras) to navigate and orient in the environment and follow a predefined network of routes.
Various sensors and detection lasers installed around the vehicle help detect obstacles in several zones around the vehicle and determine the distance that separates them from the shuttle. These sensors and lasers are constantly scanning the area around the vehicle. The software considers the vehicle’s path and determines the vehicle’s proper reaction to a detected obstacle, ranging from slightly slowing down, slowing to a complete stop, or to an emergency stop.
Dominion Energy Innovation Team Leader Julie Manzari explained how Transit Signal Priority will benefit riders on the Relay shuttle.
“The vehicle picks up the signal timing for the light, then communicates back to the light and says ‘I’m coming through — extend the green light,’ So, it extends the green light a little bit, and that way the vehicle has a little extra time to get through the intersection,” says Manzari.
In addition to Fairfax County and Dominion Energy, other partners in the Relay pilot project are EDENS (Mosaic), The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) and George Mason University (GMU).
To learn more, please visit the Fairfax County Transportation website.