There has been a conversation about how autonomous vehicles (AVs), are the future of transport and delivery in cities. Auto and tech tycoons like Tesla, Google, and Uber have all unveiled plans to develop autonomous vehicles, working toward a future with little to no human-manned vehicles in cities. In an added feat of the AV world and in an attempt to address the challenges of transport and mobility in cities, MIT has unveiled its current work-in-progress: an autonomous bicycle, better known as the PEV.

The autonomous bicycle, which is also being called a Persuasive Electronic Vehicle (PEV), is intended to solve problems related to the “last mile” of urban mobility and eventually replace cars in cities in the future. The PEV is a shared-bike that can be summoned through a smartphone app, similar to ride-hailing services like Uber or Lyft, that is designed to shuttle people and packages. In this sense, the AV bike will function both as an assisted bicycle for humans or an AV for delivery.

MIT’s newest invention, which will weigh less than 50 kilograms (110 pounds), will pack a 250 watt electric motor and a 10-ampere-per-hour battery pack, enabling the PEV to travel up to 25 miles (40.2 kilometers) with a top speed of 20 miles (32.2 kilometers) per hour on one charge. The idea behind bringing autonomy to bicycles is encouraging cities to move away from their dependence on cars. With its capabilities, users can summon a PEV, place a package in an enclosed area on the bike and send it off to its drop-off point, all without physically manning the bike itself. Users can also summon a bike for personal transport, receiving a generous push from the bike’s electric motor.

autonomous bicycle

Courtesy of Jimmy Day for MIT News.

The PEV is currently being tested in Andorra, a tiny micro state in between Spain and France, which has a rather mountainous terrain and cold climate, boding well for the challenges that PEVs face in cities around the world. Human-operated bicycles currently face difficulties in the rain and snow, making the possibilities of depending on the PEV entirely in the near future rather slim.

Steven Shladover, a research engineer at the University of California, spoke to Vice in an interview about the challenges autonomous vehicles like the PEV face operating in cities. “There are too many unsolved problems that still have to be worked out,” he said. He believes that the weather in some cities and the hazards in a driver’s environment suggest that MIT needs to sort out these challenges before rolling out the autonomous bicycle to city streets.

In spite of the enthusiasm for the AV industry, gaining the trust of consumers at large is still fairly difficult. And although autonomous vehicles can lower deaths and injuries caused by human-manned vehicles, which stand at 37,000 deaths and 2.35 million injuries in the U.S., any fatalities caused by AVs can pose challenges to the industry.

Aside from the big players, other autonomous vehicles have begun to pop up in cities around the world. From an autonomous school bus and ship to an autonomous ‘roboat’ and flying taxi, the AV industry is booming. MIT’s PEV is, however, in the lead of autonomous bicycles. Despite the challenges faced, it seems the PEV poses a promising future for urban mobility.

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