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Self-driving cars debut at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

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An autonomous vehicle shuttle service will transport passengers on along 1.1-mile loop

A black self-driving car is parked on a New York City street behind a sign that reads “Optimus Pick-Up and Drop-Off: Cumberland Gate.”
An Optimus self-driving car at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
Photo by Andrew Hawkins / The Verge

It’s official: Autonomous vehicles have arrived in New York City.

But you won’t soon see self-driving cars on city streets; instead, the vehicles will be used for a shuttle service within the Brooklyn Navy Yard, intended to connect passengers from its NYC Ferry stop to other points within the complex. The Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation partnered with Optimus Ride for the initiative, which launches tomorrow and will bring six autonomous vehicles (also known as AVs) to the yard.

How it’ll work: The cars will run on a loop between Dock 72, where the ferry stop is located, and the Navy Yard’s entrance at Flushing Avenue and Cumberland Street, a distance of about 1.1 miles. (On weekends, it’ll connect the ferry dock to Building 77, home to the complex’s new food hall.) The shuttle will operate between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m., with ridership expected to top 500 passengers per day.

How the AVs themselves will work: According to the Verge, the cars—which travel at an “extremely slow” speed—will have Optimus “drivers” on hand, but they won’t actually be touching the steering wheel. One person will be there to ensure nothing goes wrong, while the other will monitor the car’s sensors.

Self-driving cars are legal in New York, with legislation passed in 2017 that lets companies test AVs throughout the state. But they haven’t become a presence on city streets, with an official with the Department of Transportation remarking earlier this year that “New York City has been built, layer upon layer, for hundreds of years. [Autonomous vehicles] need to get ready for us,” according to City & State.

Launching an AV pilot program within the confines of the Navy Yard—which has surpassed 10,000 jobs for the first time in more than 50 years—is a safer bet than attempting to roll the vehicles out on city streets, given the safety concerns surrounding the technology. (And as the Verge notes, it gave Optimus an end-run around the Department of Motor Vehicles, since the shuttle will operate on private property.)