Autonomous vehicle program hits the streets of Detroit

Alongside the mayor of Detroit and one of the city's representatives, FOX 2 had the chance to go autonomous in one of the Motor City's brand new self-driving vehicles. 

Free for residents with disabilities and those over the age of 62, there will be three traveling the streets for the innovative pilot program beginning next Thursday. They will make 68 stops over an 11 square mile area in the southeast part of the city. 

"Our vehicles are actually really good at figuring out when someone is going to run a red light or a traffic light because we can detect their acceleration or lack of acceleration at a long range," said Edwin Olson.

Olson, who was also in the vehicle with Mike Duggan and Coleman Young, is CEO of May Mobility.

The firm is overseeing the introduction of this new technology, kick-starting what some are envisioning as an end to parking structures. 

"Right now you’re seeing office buildings being converted to housing. Twenty years from now, you’re gonna see parking structures converted to housing," said Duggan.

Young predicted the arrival will set off an economic boom as well. 

That's a bold prediction for a city branded by the companies that build cars and trucks. Then again, self-driving vehicles are themselves ambitious. Deploying decades of evolving technology and engineering into a working van is no small accomplishment.

But its success opens up new avenues for disabled people to get around the city. That includes Justice Richard Bernstein, who helped unveil the vehicle on Wednesday. 

"When people see me behind the wheel, you don’t have to head for cover and you don't have to freak out," he said.

Bernstein, who is blind, won't be getting behind the wheel anytime soon. That's because current law requires autonomous vehicles still have a driver for emergencies. That's a preference for locals in other cities like San Francisco and Phoenix where driverless cars are taking off as well. 

The project was partly funded with the help of the Delta Dental Foundation, which contributed to the $2.4 million grant to get the pilot project working.