Fairfax County to discuss Merrifield’s Relay shuttle at autonomous vehicle panel

Nearly a year after an autonomous shuttle first traveled in the D.C. metro area, Fairfax County leaders are looking at ways to extend that kind of technology to the rest of the state.

The county’s Department of Economic Initiatives has partnered with the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority to host a series of virtual panels next Thursday (June 10) for an event titled “Creating an Autonomous Vehicle Ecosystem in Virginia.”

“This virtual event will address where we are today and what we need to do to make the dream of a network of fully autonomous vehicles a reality in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” the event page says.

The event will feature three panels on autonomous transportation in Virginia, including a case study of the electric, driverless Relay shuttle that Fairfax County and Dominion Energy are currently piloting in Merrifield.

Relay launched passenger service in October and travels between the Dunn Loring-Merrifield Metro station and the Barnes and Noble in the Mosaic District. The shuttle, which travels at 10 miles per hour, can transport up to 12 people but has been limited to three people and a public safety attendant for social distancing.

The Relay panel will feature Fairfax County Department of Economic Initiatives consultant Dale Castellow, Smart Community Innovation and Strategy Manager Eta Nahapetian, and Fairfax County transportation planner Sarah Husain.

There will also be panels with experts from the private and public sectors to talk about how technology can “safely enable vehicles to function in even the most complicated scenarios” and why it’s important to navigate the first mile and last mile of trips to successfully implement autonomous vehicle technology.

Other speakers include representatives from the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation, companies like Perrone Robotics and Sensagrate.

Mike Mollenhauer, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute’s Center for Technology Implementation, will talk about the university’s partnership with VDOT to evaluate and test partially assisted autonomous vehicles in Fairfax County, including sections of I-66, I-495, Lee Highway, Arlington Boulevard, and areas where numerous crashes occur.

The free event runs from 1 p.m. to 2:15 p.m. Registration is free but should be done in advance to get information about how to attend.

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