Proterra and University of Nevada begin USA’s first autonomous bus program

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The USA’s leading manufacturer of electric buses, Proterra, is initiating the country’s first autonomous bus program with the University of Nevada at Reno (UNR) that will help build public confidence in the safety of eventual self-driving mass transit systems.

Proterra will work on the project with UNR and its Living Lab Coalition partners that includes the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC), the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles (NDMV), the Nevada Governor’s Office for Economic Development, Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems IVI, and the cities of Reno, Sparks and Carson City.

Unlike other programs to date, this autonomous vehicle pilot will deal with real road conditions from the perspective of public transit systems, and emphasize the most challenging aspects related to mass transportation, which include dense and dynamic environments, degraded conditions, and a need for swift emergency response. The pilot will also explore a new set of robotic perception algorithms that are required to address these conditions, and focus on information from multi-modal sensors and new multi-modal localization and mapping systems. Rather than solely detecting traffic, the Living Lab will focus on predicting traffic flows and plans to enhance safety. UNR’s current work focuses on the problems of vehicle perception, navigation control, path planning, and vehicle-to-vehicle/infrastructure (V2X) research.

The Living Lab program will include three main phases of R&D:

• Phase 1 focuses on data collection, vehicle instrumentation and intelligent transportation system assessment;

• Phase 2 on data mining, communications and algorithms development; and

• Phase 3 on licensing and commercialization.

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In the first phase, RTC’s state-of-the-art Proterra electric bus will operate on specific city routes to sense and gather data, which will inform technology and systems development.

“Autonomy is key for safety, efficiency and reliable transportation systems at scale. Our shared vision is to have robust, long-term autonomy to enable safer modes of transit,” said Carlos Cardillo, director of the Center for Applied Research at UNR.

“In the pilot, we plan to research and develop a robust set of algorithms for localization 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, synchronized mobility, robotics and civil engineering.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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