The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has chosen the French driverless technology company EasyMile to lead its autonomous shuttle bus pilot project, with testing about to start in a cold weather climate.
MnDOT’s Research Services division has revealed details of its upcoming research on the use of autonomous vehicles in cold weather environments. Testing at the agency’s pavement research facility is scheduled to start in November and go through February 2018. The shuttle will also be showcased during the week of the 2018 Super Bowl, which is being held in Minneapolis.
EasyMile, which has a location in Colorado, has previously conducted driverless technology cold weather tests in Finland and Norway; Minnesota will become the company’s first cold weather test site in the USA. EasyMile will use its EZ10 electric shuttle bus that has already transported 160,000 people over more than 60,000 miles (96,560km) in 14 countries worldwide.
During these trials, the shuttle was tested in various environments and traffic conditions, with the vehicle operating entirely crash-free. The shuttle operates autonomously at low speeds on pre-mapped routes, and can transport between six and 12 people. Initially, it will be tested at MnROAD, which is MnDOT’s pavement test facility located near Albertville, where the test track is made up of various research materials and pavement types. Testing will include how the shuttle operates in snow and ice conditions, at low temperatures, and on roads where salt is used.
The project’s goals are to:
Identify the challenges of operating autonomous vehicle (AV) technologies in snow/ice/salt conditions and test potential solutions through field testing on an active public roadway;
Identify the challenges and strategies of having third parties safely operate AVs on the state transportation system;
Identify infrastructure gaps and solutions to safely operate AVs on the state transportation system;
Prepare transit for improving mobility services through AVs;
Increase Minnesota’s influence and visibility on advancing ‘connected’ transport and AVs;
Enhance partnerships between government and industry on advancing CAVs in Minnesota.
“We’re excited to partner with EasyMile to help us test autonomous technology,” said Jay Hietpas, MnDOT’s state traffic engineer and project manager. “Their expertise will help us learn how these vehicles operate in a winter weather environment, so we can advance this technology and position MnDOT and Minnesota as a leader.
“3M will also be a partner in the project, so the company can research various connected vehicle concepts, including sensor enhancement and advanced roadway safety materials. When optimized, these materials would aid in safe human and machine road navigation.”