ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - Autonomous shuttle service could be on the streets of Albemarle County soon. Wednesday Albemarle County supervisors signed off on a $600,000 partnership with Perrone Robotics and JAUNT Inc.

County supervisors, along with members of JAUNT, Perrone Robotics, and the University of Virginia, were on hand to demonstrate the technology Wednesday. The University of Virginia plans to join the partnership with the pilot launch.

The service is called TONY, which stands for "TO Navigate You." Someone will still be behind the wheel, with each shuttle having safety-trained "transit ambassadors" on board. The six-seat vehicles will feed regional shuttles, allowing people who aren't on a typical route to be picked up and catch a ride places.

The pilot program will start in Crozet with hopes to expand toward Charlottesville.

"As we're each given back, on average, 300 hours per year otherwise spent driving, our lifestyles, productivity and overall wealth increases,” Paul Perrone, the CEO of Perrone Robotics, said. “These are trillion dollar industries being forged with a rising tide that lifts all boats."

The partnership will cost the county about $238,000 and Perrone Robotics $271,162. It'll cost JAUNT $107,789, and the hope is to extend the technology to the full-sized JAUNT buses.

As of now, Virginia has not yet enacted any laws to restrict autonomous driving on public roads.

The shuttle service is slated to start in March 2019.

Albemarle County, Perrone Robotics and JAUNT Inc. Press Release:

ALBEMARLE COUNTY, VA - Albemarle County, Perrone Robotics, Inc. (“PRI”), and JAUNT, Inc. are pleased to announce a Letter of Intent to enter into a partnership to develop, test, and operate an autonomous transit shuttle service pilot in Albemarle County. The partnership, totaling $600,000, will launch autonomous transit shuttle service in March 2019.

“Perrone Robotics is beyond excited to apply its ground-breaking autonomous technology to deliver modern mobility in our community” said PRI founder and CEO Paul Perrone. “It’s so satisfying to apply our technology to provide a zero-emission transit approach that will benefit businesses and neighbors – right here and right now in Albemarle County.”

“This partnership positions Albemarle County to lead in the development of the next generation of transit service with a cutting-edge local business, Perrone Robotics, and a trusted transit provider in JAUNT,” Albemarle County Board of Supervisors Chair Ann Mallek shared. “Albemarle County has long supported vibrant communities and an autonomous, zero-emission transit service brings the promise of reduced parking needs and greater use of green technologies in our urban centers – allowing our community to continue to flourish into the future.”

The location of the pilot autonomous transit shuttle service is still under review, but the service will allow riders to embark and disembark along a fixed route. While the shuttle will operate autonomously, a safety-trained transit “ambassador” will be on-board to address customer questions, offer any required assistance, and step-in as driver if needed.

“Over the next decade autonomous technology will change many aspects of public transportation. It will transform how we think about providing equitable and meaningful mobility to our communities, said Brad Sheffield, CEO of JAUNT. “Being at the forefront offers JAUNT to opportunity to understand how to best position itself to help the community prepare for these changes and opportunities. JAUNT will help explore new ways to adapt autonomous technology to enhance how it offers equity and accessible mobility through customer-oriented public transportation, the professional development of our staff and explore new service markets for transit.”

As part of the partnership, Albemarle County, through its Economic Development Authority and its Economic Development office, will promote economic development and existing business expansion by supporting Perrone Robotics. Perrone Robotics will develop and adapt their technology to enable the NEV for autonomous shuttle service. JAUNT will provide their proven expertise for scheduling and operating the shuttle during the pilot. This partnership is detailed in the Letter of Intent approved on November 14, 2018.

The University of Virginia plans to join the partnership with the pilot launch. “UVA is rapidly expanding its research capabilities related to autonomous systems and their societal impact,” explains Tom Katsouleas, EVP & Provost. “We are thrilled to partner with Perrone Robotics, Albemarle County, JAUNT, the UVA Research Park, and others to continue exploring the transformative potential of autonomous vehicles. Our faculty are developing technologies for safe, efficient self-driving cars, and envisioning a sustainable, equitable urban future. We are delighted to bring that expertise to this partnership at such a pivotal moment in transportation.”