SELF-DRIV­ING BUS? YEP, WE RODE ON ONE

Minibus, demon­strated at SXSW, might find its way to Cap­i­tal Metro.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Nolan Hicks nhicks@states­man.com

A glimpse of the fu­ture slowly rolled around a Univer­sity of Texas park­ing lot Thurs­day after­noon, mak­ing al­most no noise as it com­pleted its loop.

The oddly pro­por­tioned, 13-foot long, 10-foot tall, bat­tery pow­ered, driver­less pod-bus-shut­tle-thing could be the key to solv­ing Cap­i­tal Metro’s long-stand­ing strug­gle to bet­ter link sprawl­ing car­friendly, sub­ur­ban-style neigh­bor­hoods to its ex­ist­ing ser­vice along tran­sit cor­ri­dors. Some­day.

“It’s some­thing that’s in the fu­ture, it’s not some­thing that’s hap­pen­ing now,” Cap­i­tal Metro spokes­woman Ma­ri­ette Hum­mel said. “It’s just a way to re­search what we could be do­ing to con­nect peo­ple who live in ar­eas that don’t have tran­sit to our ser­vices.”

The tran­sit au­thor­ity teamed up with UT, con­trac­tor RAPT Dev and Easy Mile, the shut­tle’s man­u­fac­turer, to put on the de­mon­stra­tion dur­ing South by South­west.

Priced at an es­ti­mated $250,000, the pod-like EZ10 shut­tle nav­i­gated

a sim­ple loop around a park­ing lot near the LBJ Pres­i­den­tial Li­brary, guided by satel­lite po­si­tion­ing and a laser sys­tem so ac­cu­rate that an en­gi­neer said it would keep within an inch of its pro­grammed path. There were two stops and no planned ob­sta­cles in the way.

It had a sec­ond laser-based sys­tem de­signed to keep an eye out and de­tect if any­thing man­aged to get in its way: Two young boys took to run­ning in front of the bus to test the sys­tem and see if it would stop; it did.

The in­side of the French­built ve­hi­cle felt more a ter­mi­nal-link­ing air­port tram than a city bus: There were three seats on each end of the shut­tle, and space for an­other six peo­ple to stand in the mid­dle.

While these shut­tle pods are op­er­at­ing or be­ing tested in Aus­tralia, France, Ja­pan, Sin­ga­pore and a few other places, Cap­i­tal Metro cur­rently has no plans to buy any.

“Austin is al­ways at the fore­front of tech­nol­ogy, or tries to be; and Cap Metro likes to be as well,” Hum­mel said. “It’s some­thing to look for­ward to.”

PHOTOS BY JAMES GREGG/ AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

Test and op­er­a­tion en­gi­neer Vasilis Kar­avi­das per­forms a de­mon­stra­tion of the EZ10 elec­tric driver­less shut­tle at the Univer­sity of Texas cam­pus in Austin on Thurs­day. The ve­hi­cle uses lasers and satel­lite map­ping to fol­low a pro­grammed path­way to transport pas­sen­gers. It is be­ing used in other coun­tries.

The EZ10 elec­tric driver­less shut­tle has seat­ing for six pas­sen­gers and stand­ing room for an ad­di­tional eight. Cap­i­tal Metro has no plans at present to pur­chase any.

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