Autonomous shuttles debut at Hawaii’s busiest airport

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Travelers will have a new way to get around Honolulu’s airport on Wednesday as transportation officials revealed autonomous electric passenger shuttles on Tuesday.

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The pilot project features 11-passenger Miki shuttles.

The Miki — or Agile — shuttles are fully electric. The Hawaii Transportation Department director said they are much nicer than the Wiki Wiki busses that are currently in operation.

“If anybody drove the Wiki Wiki busses that in the past, you can hear it, you can hear it, you can smell it. We want to make sure that the experience is a lot better for everybody here. So, looking at converting to cleaner energy vehicles,” HDOT director Ed Sniffen said.

The vehicles use LIDAR to sense surroundings and are confined to transporting passengers between gates and terminals — they will not be on public roads.

“It’s lower speeds, the great thing about this route is it already was operating with a maximum speed limit of 10 miles an hour,” said Beep, Inc. chief revenue officer Toby McGraw “so our vehicles — even though they can go slightly faster than that, their programed to not exceed that 10 miles per hour number.”

There are four shuttles in the new electric fleet, three vehicles will be operational at one time while the last one recharges.

“These are all fully electric,” McGraw said, “this is something where they have roughly a four-hour runtime, about a two-hour charge time.”

There are always concerns when autonomous and driving are mentioned together, but in addition to enough space for 11 passengers, there will always be an attendant on board who can take manual control during emergencies or glitches.

“We’re going to have a person that’s called an ambassador that’s always on the vehicle that’s always will be able to take control of it if necessary,” Sniffen said. “They’re running their controls and they have it in their hands. They can stop it anytime they need to, they can change directions as necessary or just halt operations from there.”

There were some hiccups — the vehicle KHON2 was in went off track a few times and had to manually be steered back on course and it even braked hard enough that a passenger almost fell out of their seat.

“This is a trial-by-fire kind of thing,” Sniffen said, “we’re putting it in operation and see what sticks and if we need to adjust from there, we will.”

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The 18-month pilot project has a price tag of $3 million to operate, including the vehicles, charging station and maintenance.

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