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Autonomous Shuttles Make Debut at California State University

Two self-driving shuttles have launched at the Sacramento campus as part of a three-month pilot program, and the mayor says it shows strong potential for being continued.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The first self-driving shuttle may have just launched in California’s capital city as a three-month pilot, but it’s likely here to stay.

"This is a three-month trial. But let's be clear. There’s no three-month trial. We’re not going backwards. This is going to begat the next advance, the next Olli shuttle, the next manufacturing center — I hope — in Sacramento, and so much more,” Mayor Darrell Steinberg told a crowd of students, faculty and others gathered at Sacramento State University during for the launch of the autonomous shuttle program Feb. 21.

The campus was selected as one of the pilot locations for Olli AV shuttles. The vehicles, made by San Francisco-based Local Motors LLC, are electric, eight-passenger vehicles and will connect riders from a parking garage to classroom buildings. The exact route is still being developed, say officials. Two shuttles are made available for the pilot. In addition to transportation, they will serve a research and academic component by serving as a “classroom on wheels” for students and faculty in the College of Engineering & Computer Science.

“We have the future right here on this campus. We have the next generation moving forward. And we really want them to be exposed to what is possible here, and to understand it, and feel it and touch it,” said Congresswoman Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, in her comments at the press conference.

The vehicle provides an “opportunity to integrate robotics, and to integrate mechanical engineering, and to integrate user experiences and design in a way that continues,” said Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors, in his remarks.  The project is the first of its kind in the Sacramento region, which has been a leader in introducing new forms of mobility. The city partnered with Electrify America to introduce sharable electric cars in apartment buildings, and will deploy more than 250 electric vehicles on city streets in the coming weeks. The cars can be accessed via the Gig app, and allow drivers to rent them for as little as $2.50 a mile. Sacramento is also home to bike and scooter shares, provided by JUMP.

“If someone had said to me, ’25 years from now, you’ll be standing at Sacramento State University. And you will be speaking about driverless shuttles. And they will be made from a 3-D printer,’ I would have said, stop talking to me that way. That’s not happening. Are you kidding me?” the mayor quipped. “Look at it. Here we are.”

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.