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October 21, 2019

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‘Trying it is believing,’ Sandoval says of self-driving vehicles

Gov. Sandoval Tours CES

Mark Damon/Las Vegas News Bureau

Gov. Brian Sandoval, right, “relaxes” behind the wheel of an autonomous car demonstration as his daughter Marisa Sandoval looks on from the passenger seat during a tour of the Bosch booth at CES in the Las Vegas Convention Center on Thursday, Jan. 11, 2018.

Touting the success of the autonomous shuttle operating in downtown Las Vegas, Gov. Brian Sandoval says the future is now in Nevada.

Sandoval spoke Friday to more than 20 governors during the National Governors Association’s Transportation Innovation Summit at the Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort in Henderson.

The driverless shuttle began in November in the Innovation District in downtown Las Vegas. It has already transported more than 10,000 passengers on the 0.6-mile fixed route. An estimated 100,000 passengers are expected to ride on the shuttle during the yearlong pilot program, Sandoval said.

“People are literally lined up to have the opportunity to ride on the autonomous shuttle,” Sandoval said. “It really makes me excited and proud that we have this right here in Las Vegas.”

Sandoval said he has made autonomous transportation one of the focal points of his administration because he wants Nevada to be a leader in innovation and because it’s another way to diversify the state’s economy.

Gov. Sandoval Tours CES

Gary Shapiro, from left, president /CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, moderates a panel discussion Launch slideshow »

Sandoval said he envisions that his 13-year-old daughter won’t drive manually for too long because he anticipates autonomous vehicles becoming more widespread.

“It’s something that’s a novelty to us today, but I would imagine in the very near future they will be extremely common,” Sandoval said.

Clément Michel, president and chief executive officer of Keolis, one of the companies behind the autonomous shuttle being tested downtown, agreed with Sandoval, saying that more autonomous vehicles will be seen on roads regularly.

“All over the city I’d say (in) four or five years,” Clement said. “That’s my bet.”

Downtown businesses on the driverless shuttle’s route are seeing positive returns, Clement said.

“It’s actually having an impact,” he said. “You press the button for the doughnut shop, and you get to the doughnut shop. It’s bringing people to where they want to be and it's bringing revenue to the local business owners.”

Navya and Kelois introduced a six-passenger autonomous taxi, the Autonom, downtown on Jan. 8. It is designed to serve as an on-demand transportation service. The North American debut was tied to CES in Las Vegas last week.

CES has played a big role in the Innovation District testing new technologies, and it’s how the driverless shuttle project got its start.

“The fact that CES is in Las Vegas enables innovation to come to the city,” Clement said. “It’s a real attraction, and that’s important.”

Safety is the No. 1 concern of those who question the reliability of autonomous vehicles. A truck that crashed into the self-driving shuttle on the first day of that pilot program didn’t help the perception. The driver of the truck, however, was cited.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s investigation is expected to take six to nine months, according to Andreas Mai, executive vice president of market development and innovation for Keolis.

Sandoval said there’s one way to alleviate concerns about the safety of self-driving vehicles.

“Try it. Just try it. Trying it is believing,” he said. “For people who are not used to self-driving vehicles, they always want to be in control. You can see for yourself it’s safe by what’s being done downtown. … I know the first time I got an autonomous vehicle, I was a little hesitant. But now I think it’s a great way to get to where you want to go.”