A self-driving shuttle will be roaming the streets of Fishers next year. 

PerceptIn, a Santa Clara, California-based visual intelligence technology company, announced Thursday that it will relocate its global headquarters to the Hamilton County suburb and establish an 18-month pilot program for an autonomous mobility service. 

The relocation is expected to create up to 160 new high-paying jobs in Indiana by 2022.

PerceptIn specializes in technology for self-driving vehicles and focuses on local transportation markets and public transit. The company will invest more than $6 million to establish its global headquarters at the Indiana IoT Lab on Technology Lane in Fishers. It plans to move in early next year. 

“In Fishers currently there’s no bus service, but there are a lot of people trying to move around the city,” PerceptIn CEO Shaoshan Liu told IndyStar in a telephone interview Thursday. “People are time-constrained by the distance they have to travel, so we are filling the gaps here by using an autonomous vehicle to provide the service and connect the busy parts of the city and move people around.”

A new mode of public transit 

PerceptIn makes a low-speed, self-driving vehicle called the DragonFly Pod. The vehicle is designed to be used in low-speed environments such as university campuses, industrial parks and areas with limited traffic. 

For its pilot program, PerceptIn is partnering with Indiana-based LHP Engineering Solutions to develop a driverless shuttle that can hold up to eight passengers and complete low-speed short trips, according to a news release.

The shuttle’s speed tops out at 20 miles per hour, Liu said. PerceptIn employees will monitor the vehicle to ensure safety measures are met.

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“Our approach is to essentially target local transportation markets,” Liu told IndyStar. “For example, most of the United States cities, they have to run a bus service, and then the city government has to spend a lot of tax dollars to maintain that service.”

Liu said transit systems in many cities are not user friendly.

“What we are trying to do is provide an autonomous shuttle on exact city routes to pick up passengers and to drop off passengers,” he said. “Since it’s autonomous we don’t have to have a driver stay on the route 24-7.”

How the pilot program would work

The Fishers’ pilot program will consists of two stages. Initially, one DragonFly Bus will be used to gather data and understand interactions between passengers and the vehicle.

Liu said the company aims to gain a better understanding of Indiana’s weather and to collect feedback from users. 

A lone shuttle will be piloted for about six months during the first stage. The second stage — in which the program will be fully operational — will span 12 months and include four shuttles. 

“If people are interested, they can just go there, get on the bus and have a ride,” Liu said. “We have the support from the Fishers’ government as well to see how autonomous driving can help the traffic conditions.”

Perceptin’s shuttle will pick up passengers from 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. each day and transport them along a fixed route from Launch Fishers to the Indiana IoT Lab near the suburb’s downtown, about three-tenths of a mile. The Launch Fishers coworking space helped launch the lab, which brings together entrepreneurs working on internet-related technologies.  

The company said additional routes will be added depending on the program’s outcome. Anyone can ride the shuttle for free, Liu said. Stops will be fixed. Passengers can press a button inside the shuttle to request a stop. 

Whether a fare will be implemented during the second stage still needs to be discussed, he added. 

“Fishers is very open-minded,” Liu said. “They want to adopt this kind of new technology and integrate technology into their city system.”

He is convinced that autonomous vehicles can help cities reduce their transportation budgets. If successful, Perceptin hopes to increase it presence in Indiana and eventually spread the program to other U.S. cities. 

Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness said the city supports the endeavor.

“When we launched the Indiana IoT Lab in 2017, a company like PerceptIn is exactly who we had in mind to propel our city even further as a leading city for tech,” Fadness said in a written statement. 

Capturing a market share 

Over the past several years, companies such as Google, Waymo, Tesla and General Motors have spent billions of dollars to bring self-driving vehicles to pubilc roads. 

The Center for Automotive Research in Michigan said Google, via its self-driving car project, was the first company to operate an autonomous vehicle on public roads without a safety driver.

Google’s parent, Alphabet, spun off the project as Waymo in 2016, and the following year the standalone company announced it had begun removing safety drivers from autonomous vehicles it was operating on limited, low-traffic roads in Arizona. 

But the Center for Automotive Research said the company had not advanced to a true driverless consumer service. Waymo now operates a commercial ride-share service that uses safety drivers. 

PerceptIn was founded in 2016. The company said it’s hoping to make headway into the market for autonomous low-speed electric vehicles and increase its North American customer base. 

It’s working with the city of Fishers and Energy Systems Network, or ESN, an energy and transportation technology initiative of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, to develop and deploy the autonomous vehicle pilot program. 

Matt Peak, ESN’s mobility director, said in a written statement that PerceptIn’s autonomous transit service has the potential to enhance transportation and advance a “mobility-as-a-system” approach, which relies on different modes of transit to improve travel. 

PerceptIn used the state’s headquarters relocation tax credit program to support its move to Indiana. The company will maintain its Santa Clara office. The company also has locations in Japan and China. 

The company plans to hire engineers, analysts and technicians. The Indiana Economic Development Corp. has offered PerceptIn more than $3.5 million in conditional tax credits based on the company’s job creation plans. 

The Fishers Redevelopment Commission will consider approval of an agreement between the Indiana IoT Lab and PerceptIn on Monday.

Contact IndyStar reporter Alexandria Burris at aburris@gannett.com or call 317-617-2690. Follow her on Twitter: @allyburris.

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