Pennsylvania’s first AV arrives at Philadelphia Navy Yard

Dec. 21, 2023
Beginning in January 2024, the AV shuttle will be incorporated into the Navy Yard’s existing shuttle service that connects visitors and employees to SEPTA’s NRG Station and Center City.

Pennsylvania’s first autonomous vehicle (AV) shuttle has arrived at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and is ready to begin operations starting in early January 2024. The arrival of the electric, zero-emissions shuttle comes after much planning, testing and coordination between public and private organizations. 

The project was launched in February 2022 when Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation (PIDC) awarded Perrone Robotics, Inc., a two-phased AV shuttle and services contract. The AV shuttle will be incorporated into the Navy Yard’s existing shuttle service that connects visitors and employees to Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) NRG Station and Center City. The AV shuttle was funded by the Travel Options Program (TOP), a grant program of the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC). 

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) will oversee regulatory approvals and is partnering with researchers at Drexel University to analyze shuttle performance and rider feedback to inform future deployments. The infrastructure consulting firm AECOM assisted the grant proposal and through its existing contracts with PennDOT, will be providing overall program management, technical planning, testing and deployment expertise. 

“DVRPC, PennDOT, Perrone Robotics, AECOM and Drexel University have all been instrumental partners in bringing the commonwealth’s first AV shuttle to the Navy Yard,” said Kate McNamara, PIDC’s senior vice president at the Navy Yard. “The Navy Yard has always been a home to innovation – from its rich history as a naval base where aviation and shipbuilding were pioneered to the present, with more than 150 companies in sectors such as industrial trades, manufacturing, shipbuilding and repair, cell and gene therapy, health care and more. The addition of the AV shuttle continues that tradition of innovation in a sustainable and resilient way and ensures equitable access to quality jobs at the Navy Yard.” 

“Autonomous vehicles have demonstrated a unique potential to improve transportation safety and accessibility in use cases around the country,” said PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll. “We’re excited to shepherd the industry forward in Pennsylvania with projects like this.” 

 The ADA-compliant AV shuttle utilizes Perrone’s To Navigate You technology that converts the shuttle to fully automated capabilities for operations in the Navy Yard. The shuttle can seat nine passengers plus a wheelchair, aside from the operator. The wheelchair ramp feature will be accessible from a standard roadside curb. 

“We are thrilled to participate in this groundbreaking journey with PIDC, DVRPC, PennDOT, AECOM and Drexel University to deploy a pioneering achievement in urban mobility,” said Paul Perrone, CEO and founder of Perrone Robotics. “This venture stands as a testament to the transformative impact of collaborative innovation, blending public and private sectors to forge pathways in advanced, safety-enhanced transportation. As we roll out the TONY AV driver on Philadelphia’s vibrant streets, we’re not just navigating roads; we’re charting a bold course for future cities in the United States and across the globe. This is more than a project; it’s a mobility revolution and we are proud to be at its helm with world class partners.” 

“This exciting project will enhance accessibility to jobs and amenities in the Navy Yard while reducing the dependence on single occupancy vehicles,” said Ariella Maron, DVRPC executive director. “The funding of innovative projects that encourage the use of alternatives to driving alone is the idea behind DVRPC’s TOP and we are pleased to award a TOP grant to help fund the first AV shuttle in greater Philadelphia and in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This milestone is the culmination of ongoing public-private partnerships and forward thinking planning and we believe it is just the beginning of our region’s growing menu of electric and autonomous travel options.”  

In the first phase of deployment, the Navy Yard AV shuttle will operate with a back-up operator on board around the Navy Yard campus to circulate Navy Yard employees and visitors around the campus. Then in Phase 2, which is expected to begin in the coming months, it will connect the Navy Yard to SEPTA’s NRG Station on the Broad Street subway line.  

“This is an exciting project and AECOM is proud to partner with PennDOT, PIDC, the city and DVRPC to bring the AV shuttle to Philadelphia,” said Michael Girman, senior vice president, transportation, AECOM. “Management of congestion, particularly during construction, is a substantial concern when creating more equitable and efficient transportation infrastructure and we are always looking for innovative and collaborative ways to solve our region’s transportation challenges.” 

“The work of Professor Dimitrios Fafalis and his students will provide important information on how this program can continue to improve, in hopes of expanding access to public transportation for people throughout the city,” said Dr. Jonathan Spanier, head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics in Drexel’s College of Engineering.