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Former mayor Rick Baker backs driverless vehicle technology

Bill DeYoung



Former St. Petersburg mayor Rick Baker has been added to the Advisory Board of California-based Coast Autonomous, a company that makes experimental, self-driving electric vehicles for cities looking to ease their mass transit woes.

“Cities matter,” Baker said in a statement released by Coast. “We are at the beginning of an enormous wave of change that will improve the daily lives of people living in cities around the world. Properly focused on the pedestrian, self-driving vehicles will make cities more user-friendly, safe, comfortable, productive and interesting.”

Baker is Coast’s Senior Advisor on Urban Deployment. The shuttle system, he predicted, “will be the future of autonomous technology.”

Coast’s P-1 shuttle is not meant to travel with regular automobile traffic – not yet, anyway. Rather, it’s being tested in pedestrian malls, parking lots and similar semi-enclosed spaces. At both ends, the vehicle is fitted with sensors for object detection and collision avoidance in a 360 degree range.

Its routes, with all conceivable variations, are pre-programmed in an onboard computer.

The shuttle, which seats 14, doesn’t go any faster than 20 mph. It runs on stored electricity and can go between 10 and 12 hours on a single charge. According to the Coast website, the company “develops best-in-class, fully integrated autonomous software with multiple layers of redundancy.”

Since 2012, “members of the Coast team have successfully run more than 60 trials in seven different countries, and safely transported more than 120,000 passengers.”

Baker himself took part in a trial last month in New York City’s Times Square:

“When I first rode in the Coast P-1 shuttle, I immediately understood that this low-speed shuttle was the perfect vehicle to help rejuvenate city centers, and I wanted to be a part of the Coast team,” Baker said.

“At 20 miles per hour, these 100 percent electric shuttles are safe, can be operated at costs far below existing buses and shuttles, and can be deployed today to provide a superior mobility option and make cities more livable.”

The P-1 made its local debut last November, at the Florida Automated Vehicles Summit, at the Grand Hyatt Tampa Bay.

The city’s mayor from 2001 to 2010, Baker has served as an adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute’s Center for State and Local Leadership, and wrote The Seamless City, a book on progressive, positive urban redevelopment.

Here’s a Coast-produced video of what the P-1 would look like on the St. Petersburg waterfront:






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