The Center for Retail Transformation and the Center for Real Estate Entrepreneurship at George Mason University School of Business have entered into a research collaboration with Fairfax County on the Relay project in Merrifield, Virginia. Relay is an autonomous (self-driving) electric public transportation shuttle that will circulate between the Mosaic District and the Dunn Loring Metrorail Station.
Led by Gautham Vadakkepatt, the director of the Center for Retail Transformation, George Mason University will develop surveys and collect information from social media postings to understand changes in public perception of autonomous vehicle technology over the test period.
This is the first public-private partnership for an autonomous public transportation demonstration project in Virginia. Dominion Energy purchased the vehicle which is manufactured by the French company EasyMile. The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation and Fairfax County are providing the vehicle operating costs.
“Autonomous vehicles will dramatically shape the future, presenting major opportunities and risks,” said Vadakkepatt. “Not only will they change how people travel and create new mobility choices, it has the potential to transform industries such as retail.”
“While there is increasing positive sentiment about adoption of these technologies, there is wide variance in individual willingness to adopt these technologies,” continued Vadakkepatt. “Understanding these differences can hasten adoption of this technology and its integration into the day-to-day operations of an economy. The Relay rollout presents an opportunity to understand these adoption dynamics in our own local region. I’m delighted that Mason could play a role in this effort,” Vadakkepatt said.
The surveys and social media tracking administered by George Mason will provide information on how autonomous electric vehicles can be safely and effectively adopted as a new solution connecting mass transit to commercial hubs and residential neighborhoods. The Relay pilot project will also educate the community on new mobility options and more eco-friendly low-emission travel.
“Autonomous vehicles have great potential to influence the use and design of neighborhoods, buildings, parking, and infrastructure,” said Eric Maribojoc, director of the Center for Real Estate Entrepreneurship. “After considerable hype a few years ago, autonomous vehicle technology is moving to the much more difficult stage of practical research and testing in real-world conditions. It’s great that George Mason will contribute to this important step.”
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