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May mobility charts cautious, community-focused path to autonomy

This month, Ann Arbor-based May Mobility aims to make history deploying what it claims are America’s first truly driverless robotaxis shuttling real passengers. If achieved, the milestone caps six years of stepwise progress charting an unconventional self-driving strategy tailored to senior communities. But while avoiding rivals’ stumbles, May Mobility must still demonstrate its asset-light model’s commercial viability.

On December 19th, May Mobility rolls out two autonomous Chrysler minivans covering nearly five miles of Arizona’s Sun City retirement community sans human backups. Teleoperators will remotely monitor journeys, ready to intervene if needed. But otherwise, actual passengers will ride alone relying solely on self-driving capabilities.

The launch follows years piloting similar services in Sun City and other elder enclaves but with attendant safety drivers, 30,000 miles of testing, and over 350,000 autonomy-assisted rides under May Mobility’s belt. Conservatively expanding features and domains allowed methodically building confidence before attempting full autonomy.

Other major players like Cruise and Waymo similarly logged huge miles before removing human monitors from taxi trials. But May Mobility’s singular focus on cordoned-off senior shuttles distinguishes its restrained rollout from rivals’ ambitions offering expansive public robotaxi services.

This tailored approach aims overcoming self-driving’s lingering technical and trust limitations through simplicity rather than scale. Structured environments like retirement communities with low speeds and predictable behaviors better suit current autonomous capabilities than chaotic urban settings. Such limited domains—campuses, airports, even factories—facilitate proving safety first in controlled conditions.

There are also strong commercial grounds favoring May Mobility’s elder transport focus. Securing startup capital proved challenging even before this year’s funding winter. Many question whether robotaxis can operate profitably relying just on passenger fares given astronomical development costs.

May Mobility’s model instead gets paid directly by communities, not riders, while outsourcing costly vehicle production to partners like Chrysler. This asset-light framework limits financial risks associated with scaling fleets, maintenance, etc. Investors burned by speculative self-driving ventures may thus welcome May Mobility’s lean, specialized strategy delivering near-term returns.

Of course, detractors contend niche senior services cannot justify autonomy’s grand promises. And even tailoring technology to elderly users poses formidable research challenges given health fragilities. Nonetheless, by isolating thorniest variables, May Mobility smartly sidesteps pitfalls scuttling more ambitious rivals during the industry’s ongoing reckoning.

Its milestone driverless debut will face skeptical scrutiny both technically and commercially. But the company deserves kudos for pragmatism bucking convention in self-driving’s ongoing reality check. If initial results satisfy, May Mobility’s surgical autonomy could point one quiet path toward everyday acceptance. For an industry seeking redemption, this rose needs no flashy gardening, just simple nourishment, to bloom.

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