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Autonomous, for real. Optimus Ride self-driving shuttles want to be fully driverless in 2020

Operating in four locations around the US, these self-driving shuttles ride within the limits of geofenced areas to provide last-mile connections to commuters.

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The vehicles still drive with a safety driver and a software operator.

Marta Franco/CNET

Optimus Ride, an MIT spinoff, has started operating its autonomous vehicles at Paradise Valley Estates in Fairfield, California. The shuttles, which have been carrying passengers for a couple of months now, follow deployments at the Seaport District in Boston, the Halley Rise mixed-use district in Reston, Virginia, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York, a 300-acre industrial park. At the moment, the vehicles still drive with two people from the company on board, a safety driver and a software operator, but the goal of the company is to be fully driverless later this year. We caught up with the company recently -- check out the video below.

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At a moment when a big part of the conversation around autonomous cars is centered around cars that could potentially go anywhere, and companies such as Waymo, Uber and Tesla, the company has taken a different approach. Optimus Ride partners with developers to operate within the limits of geofenced locations. These are well delimited areas the company can comprehensively map, such as residential communities, campuses or industrial parks. By repeating the same loops in these relatively controlled environments, Optimus Ride reduces the variables that could affect its autonomy and operate outside the strict regulations of public spaces. 

The company was founded in 2015 and is based in Boston. Since it started operating at the Seaport District in Boston in 2017, it has provided nearly 60,000 rides at all deployment sites. The vehicles can move through these areas at about 25 mph, and passengers can hop on and off to complete the last mile of their commute.