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A Good Use for Autonomous Shuttles: Helping the Elderly

Navya pilot program transports seniors to medical appointments


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One of the key benefits promised by autonomous vehicles is to provide improved transportation access to underserved and disadvantaged communities. This includes senior citizens and others in need of medical assistance.

France’s Navya Technologies is putting such capabilities to the test…in downtown Detroit.


A new partnership, funded by a mobility grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corp.'s PlanetM mobility arm, helps residents of two communities, Brush Park Manor Senior Center and Brewster Homes, get to and from appointments at Detroit Medical Center Heart Hospital.

                     Navya Autonom shuttle (Image: Navya)

The pilot program, which began this month and will run through mid-October, transports riders along a 1.3-mile route via a Navya self-driving shuttle at speeds up to 15 mph. The free, wheelchair-accessible vehicle runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.

An attendant, provided by IXR Mobility, is on board to oversee vehicle operations and assist passengers with boarding and exiting the shuttle. The operator also can answer questions about the vehicle’s features and technology.

COVID Accommodations

Special provisions are made to help safeguard against the coronavirus.

For starters, seating is limited to two passengers and the operator. This compares with the shuttle’s maximum capacity of 16 occupants (11 seated passengers and 4 standing, plus the attendant) or 1 wheelchair and 8 seated passengers.

Everyone on board is required to wear a mask and practice social distancing. In addition, seats and surfaces are sanitized between each trip. Riders also can use a touchless hand sanitizer dispenser and available anti-bacterial wipes.


In addition to Navya and IXR, several other companies are involved in the program.

BraunAbility provides the shuttle with an ADA-compliant wheelchair ramp, while Q’Straint supplies an on-board system to secure wheelchairs. Rides on the shuttle are booked through an app developed by Bestmile.

Other partners include AARP, DTE Energy, Flagstar Bank and NextEnergy. PlanetM and Michigan’s new Office of Future Mobility and Electrification are overseeing the initiative.

The goal is to connect seniors and disadvantaged populations to healthcare, pharmacies and other essential services, while building trust in self-driving vehicles, the partners say.