The commercial segment of Polaris Inc. has been making electric low-speed vehicles in its Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) business for years.
Now the Medina-based company is partnering with Optimus Ride in Boston to make those vehicles autonomous.
Since 2016, Optimus Ride has modified about 30 Polaris GEM vehicles with autonomous vehicle technology systems.
The company will expand the partnership to build an exclusive line of GEM vehicles that have the technology fully integrated into the vehicles.
"Expanding our partnership with Polaris accelerates our pursuit to transform personal mobility by delivering on-demand, autonomous transportation services to communities across the country," said Optimus Ride CEO Sean Harrington in a statement. "Polaris is the ideal partner to bring these vehicles to market with their established leadership in the LSV [low-speed vehicle] space, ability to quickly scale production and their deep knowledge of and experience in urban mobility."
Polaris acquired Global Electric Motorcars in 2011. LSVs are street legal with a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour. They can weigh up to 3,000 pounds and have a number of passenger safety features. Polaris makes models with two, four and six seats, plus a small truck model.
One in 10 vehicles by 2030 will be autonomous vehicles, according to some estimates. While fully autonomous vehicles and trucks are an aspiration for the open roads and highways, fully autonomous vehicles to provide the last mile of transit in certain settings such as academic or corporate campuses have a more immediate future. The routes need to be relatively short and predictable, so they also could be of use in mixed-use development or small communities.
"Through the nature of what an LSV is and the autonomous technology that these guys have and continue to evolve, these are right-sized, much safer, much more efficient, very sustainable solutions that are a better option than what is out there today," said Keith Simon, vice president of Polaris Commercial, which includes GEM and other brands.
Optimus Ride has proved its technology by providing more than 75,000 autonomous-vehicle rides in a number of different environments. The company currently uses a safety driver in both fixed-route and on-demand transportation services for short trips of 1 to 3 miles.
"The GEM platform is ideally suited for these types of use cases," Harrington said in an interview.
Uses for the autonomous vehicles will depend on local regulations and will still require people to monitor fleets remotely, to help with unanticipated situations and maintenance. Harrington said the goal is to increase the ratio of vehicles to people needed to service them as the technology continues to get better.
Under the partnership, the two companies would develop a custom-designed version of the GEM that allows them to get to fully autonomous, driverless operation.
"Our plan is to release this product at production scale in the second half of 2023," Harrington said. "And expand from there and start addressing that significant demand we see out in the market for this solution."
Harrington said the market opportunity is tens of thousands of potential sites, with multiple vehicles at each site for a total addressable market value in the multibillions.
"This is a big market opportunity we see in front of us," Harrington said.
Optimus Ride was founded in 2015 and has about 100 employees. Its corporate roots go back to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Harrington was appointed CEO in November and charged with further developing the technology of the company and to build its commercial applications.
In 2020, sales in the Global Adjacent Markets segment of Polaris, which includes the Polaris Commercial division, were $425 million, down 8% from 2019 and accounted for about 6% of Polaris' $7 billion in overall sales.
"The best path to start to penetrate at meaningful scale the mobility sector with AV [autonomous vehicles] is this lower speed, shorter trips, localized environment," Harrington said.
Polaris' shares ended Tuesday at $135.55, up 1.8%.
Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926