MERRIFIELD:  The future of transportation arrived in northern Virginia on Thursday, looking like a big blue toaster on wheels that drives itself through the region's notorious traffic.

State and local officials debuted the Relay system - an all - electric, autonomous vehicle that will provide free shuttle rides back and forth from a metrorail stop to the bustling downtown district in Fairfax county.

''The shuttle is the sort of thing we'd see in a Star Wars or a Blade Runner movie, said Mark Webb, chief innovation officer at Dominion Energy, a partner in the project.

It is the first publicly funded electric, autonomous shuttle in Virginia, officials said. Similar pilot projects are up and running in different places across the country, but what makes the. Relay shuttle somewhat unique is the environment in which it will operate.

While some projects are limited to college campuses or operate in dedicated lanes, this shuttle will mix with real traffic in a particularly busy section of Fairfax County.

This is not a one-off, not a demonstration in a parking lot, said McGhee, director of transportation research and innovation in the state transportation department.

She said the project will provide valuable data on basic functions like the vehicle's battery life in a real working environment, the cost of the electricity needed to fuel the vehicle, and how the shuttles operate in an environment studded with cars, pedestrians and traffic lights.

The shuttle is starting off small : while it seats six, only three will be allowed at any time because of the coronavirus unless they are members of the same family. [AP]


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