Businesses in downtown Greensboro hope self-driving shuttles help boost business

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GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Inside a lab at North Carolina’s Agricultural and Technical State University, students are hard at work creating two self-driving vehicles for downtown Greensboro.

The shuttles will be paid for by a $50,000 investment from Downtown Greensboro Inc.

“This is going to put us on a map internationally and we’re so excited about that,” said Zack Matheny, president and CEO of DGI.

Dr. Ali Karimoddini is the director of the university’s NCCAV center. He said prototypes will take about a year to develop. He expects about another year of testing before the shuttles are ready for the road.

“It’s a race, it’s a lot of cities across the nation are trying to be kind of pioneers, and we’re going to be a winner in that type of competition,” he said.

Matheny said the shuttles will help DGI meet a need identified in the 2030 Vision.

“One of the things when we go out and we hear from the citizens is, trolleys or [more] connectivity, and how can we better connect?” he said.

Several business owners said they looked forward to seeing the shuttles on the street.

“There’s going to be a a curiosity factor of, ‘Oh I don’t really need to take the shuttle, but I’m kind of curious to see what that’s all about,’” said Alexa Terry Wilde, of Antlers and Astronauts.

“Technology attracts new investment, and new investment helps bring economic growth for everyone, top to bottom,” said Stephen Monahan, at Little Brother Brewing.

Others were skeptical of the impact of the $50,000 investment.

“I just don’t know how it helps downtown Greensboro other than downtown Greensboro is the backdrop for the research,” said Allen McDavid, a part-owner of Terra Blue.

Matheny said the shuttles would fit in well in Greensboro’s streetscape.

“We have wide roads, so we’re hopefully going to be able to dedicate a lane for the autonomous vehicles so we can avoid any of the concerns about other traffic.”

Routes would start running from campus to downtown. Matheny said they’d eventually like to expand outward, running to Revolution Mill and other campuses.

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