Campuses of higher learning in California and Arizona are the site of two autonomous shuttle pilots, offering both transportation, and academic study into the future possibilities of self-driving vehicles.
Sacramento State University and the East Valley Institute of Technology in Phoenix have been selected as the winners of the Olli Fleet Challenge
, organized by San Francisco-based LM Industries, which makes small autonomous electric vehicles.
The pilots are set up as three-month experiments where each campus will get two vehicles. In both projects the vehicles will serve general transportation needs on the campuses as well as educational purposes, introducing AV technologies to students and the larger campus communities. The vehicles will be delivered to the campuses at the beginning of 2019, when testing will begin.
“We have integrated faculty from our transportation engineering program into our pilot, and we’re going to engage students to learn about what the autonomous shuttle operations look like,” said Tony Lucas, an administrator in the transportation and parking department at Sacramento State, a university with a campus population of 30,500 students.
Areas of research include exploring some of the processes and requirements to introduce autonomous shuttles into the transportation system, said Lucas. “We’re really trying to engage our academic community in this pilot project,” he added.
The Olli vehicles, which are small, eight-passenger electric shuttles, capable of traveling about 25 mph, will serve faculty and students with shuttle service, connecting the student union, faculty administration building and parking garage. A human operator will be onboard the shuttles.
In Phoenix, the shuttles will serve a six-stop route through campus, and will be integrated into the school’s automotive training curriculum. The East Valley Institute of Technology offers technical training for about 1,200 students.
"We are excited about this opportunity to introduce the Olli transportation technology to our students and community, and for our students to have the chance to observe and learn first-hand the support needed to maintain the vehicles.” said Steve Waldvogel, assistant superintendent at EVIT, in a statement. “This partnership will introduce more people to Olli and to EVIT."
The colleges do not have to pay to use the Olli vehicles, though they are responsible for incidentals like recharging the batteries. Both projects offer opportunities for organizations that already use fleet vehicles to get a better understanding of autonomous shuttles, along with possibly becoming customers of LM Industries.
The company has announced a second Olli Fleet Challenge, this one for the Washington D.C. metro area. Entries are due Feb. 6, 2019.
Campus administrators stress the biggest benefit the AVs will offer is their ability to teach. At Sacramento State an associate dean and faculty member have integrated the pilot into their course curriculum.
“We’re going to have quite a bit of student exposure to this project throughout the semester, and our hopes are to give some real-world experience to our transportation engineering students at Sacramento State,” said Lucas. “And we think that’s a pretty unique thing that we can give them through this pilot project, in addition to solving what I believe are real-world problems into our campus circulation, which I believe the autonomous vehicle can fit into our infrastructure that we have set up.
According to Lucas, the project is not long-term, but it may become one moving forward. “Initially, this is really an opportunity for our campus community to get a feel for autonomous vehicle operations and for our students to get experience with it," he said.