Yanks test self-drive e-bus

Proterra pi­lot pro­gramme in Ne­vada to ad­vance recog­ni­tion of in­tent by ro­botic per­cep­tors

The Witness - Wheels - - TRANSPORT - ALWYN VILJOEN

RO­BOT buses are be­ing tested in Ne­vada be­fore they start op­er­at­ing on their own in cities across the U.S.

While sev­eral com­pa­nies are bet­ting fu­ture pub­lic trans­port will see more midibus taxis trundling around with­out a driver, Proterra is bet­ting the buses will be big­ger.

In Ari­zona, Lo­cal Mo­tors is one of the com­pa­nies bet­ting on smaller buses, hav­ing last year in­tro­duced a small, 12-seater elec­tric bus called Olli.

This 3D-printed, au­ton­o­mous, elec­tric shut­tle is also par­tially re­cy­clable and links with IBM’s “Wat­son” soft­ware to recog­nise and in­ter­act with pas­sen­gers.

Elec­tric bus man­u­fac­turer Proterra in­tends to go big­ger and has in­tro­duced what it calls the in­dus­try’s first au­ton­o­mous bus pro­gramme, work­ing with the Univer­sity of Ne­vada, Reno and its Liv­ing Lab Coali­tion part­ners.

Proterra’s buses won’t be the first large ve­hi­cles driv­ing on their own along Amer­ica’s high­ways and sub­ur­ban streets.

The Daim­ler group is al­ready test­ing su­per-link trucks in the U.S., while Volvo and Sca­nia did so in Europe. Down Un­der in Oz, Ko­matsu have long proven the cost ef­fec­tive­ness of re­mov­ing the nut that holds the steer­ing wheel in gi­ant ro­bot min­ing trucks. With other elec­tric bus builders, like BYD from China, not di­vulging news on au­ton­o­mous tests, Proterra is the first with a pro­gramme to help prove ro­bot buses are safe. Un­like other pro­grammes to date, this au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle pi­lot will deal with real road con­di­tions from the per­spec­tive of pub­lic tran­sit sys­tems, and em­pha­sise the most chal­leng­ing as­pects re­lated to mass trans­porta­tion, which in­clude dense and dy­namic en­vi­ron­ments, de­graded con­di­tions, and a need for swift emer­gency re­sponse. Proterra said in a state­ment the pi­lot will also ex­plore a new set of ro­botic per­cep­tion al­go­rithms that are re­quired to ad­dress these con­di­tions, and fo­cus on tight cues from mul­ti­modal sen­sors and new mul­ti­modal lo­cal­i­sa­tion and map­ping.

Rather than solely de­tect traf­fic, the Liv­ing Lab will fo­cus on pre­dict­ing traf­fic flows and plans to en­hance safety. The univer­sity’s cur­rent work fo­cuses on the prob­lems of ve­hi­cle per­cep­tion, nav­i­ga­tion con­trol, path plan­ning and ve­hi­cle-to-ve­hi­cle as well as ve­hi­cle-to-in­fra­struc­ture re­search.

“Au­ton­omy is key for safety, ef­fi­ciency and re­li­able trans­porta­tion sys­tems at scale. Our shared vi­sion is to have ro­bust, longterm au­ton­omy to en­able safer modes of tran­sit,” said Carlos Cardillo, PhD di­rec­tor of the Ne­vada Cen­tre for Ap­plied Re­search at the Univer­sity of Ne­vada, Reno. “The pi­lot will re­search and de­velop a ro­bust set of al­go­rithms for lo­cal­i­sa­tion and map­ping, ob­ject de­tec­tion in the do­mains of multi-modal fu­sion and recog­ni­tion of in­tent to ul­ti­mately ad­vance ro­botic per­cep­tion and move sys­tems closer to our si­mul­ta­ne­ous goal of en­hanc­ing safety. The project in­volves univer­sity re­searchers in ad­vanced au­ton­o­mous sys­tems, com­puter sciences, syn­chro­nised mo­bil­ity, robotics and civil en­gi­neer­ing.”

The pi­lot is sup­ported by the Knowl­edge Fund, an in­no­va­tive fund­ing mechanism de­vel­oped by the State of Ne­vada to spur re­search, knowl­edge-in­ten­sive and in­no­va­tion-driven eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, and Re­search & In­no­va­tion at the Univer­sity of Ne­vada, Reno.

Ryan Pop­ple, CEO of Proterra, said the pi­lot was the first of such projects to ad­vance mo­bil­ity so­lu­tions that best meet peo­ple’s evolv­ing needs as more com­mu­ni­ties take steps to in­te­grate au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cles.


Elec­tric bus man­u­fac­turer Proterra is test­ing a ro­bot bus pro­gram­mme.

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