Proterra Initiates America’s First Autonomous Bus Test Project in Nevada

Electric bus maker Proterra wants people to feel comfortable about traveling by autonomous buses and its test program in Nevada is to be a first step.

The company is working with transportation agencies and the University of Nevada-Reno’s Living Lab Coalition to launch a three-phase R&D pilot project for “safer mobility solutions” to build public confidence in transitioning away from buses controlled solely by a human driver.

Proterra’s partners in the Living Lab Coaltion include the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC), the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, the Nevada Governor’s Office for Economic Development, Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems IVI, and Nevada’s cities of Reno, Sparks, and Carson City.

The first testing phase of the pilot project will focus on data collection, vehicle instrumentation, and intelligent transportation system assessment. RTC’s electric bus, manufactured by Proterra, will follow specific city routes to sense and gather data that can be applied to systems development.

Phase two explores data mining, communications, and algorithms development. The third phase of the project will dig into licensing and commercialization.

Funding will be supported by the state’s Knowledge Fund that supports research and economic development on the knowledge front. It’s also supported by Research & Innovation at the University of Nevada, Reno.

According to Carlos Cardillo, director of the Nevada Center for Applied Research at the University of Nevada, Reno, the program has specific goals.

“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,” said Cardillo. “The project involves University researchers in advanced-autonomous systems, computer sciences, synchronized mobility, robotics and civil engineering.”

Those studying data will be focusing on real-road conditions from the perspective of public transit agencies. They’re interested in delving into challenging aspects of running a transit agency, such as dense and dynamic environments, degraded road conditions, and situations needing swift emergency response.

To face these conditions, the pilot will be learning about the potential of a new set of robotic perception algorithms being deployed in the technology that are required to address difficult situations. Data will be provided by multi-modal sensors and new multi-modal localization and mapping built into the autonomous buses.

“We see the Living Lab pilot as a way to support ongoing safety improvements, encourage technology develop in autonomous vehicles, and better understand complex road dynamics,” said Ryan Popple, CEO of Proterra.

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Proterra said that it has now sold more than 380 vehicles to 36 different municipal, university, and commercial transit agencies in 20 states across the U.S. The company has offices in Silicon Valley, South Carolina, and Los Angeles.

Nevada has become a hub for autonomous vehile testing and development. It was the first state to allow for testing self-driving vehicles staring in 2011.

Las Vegas has joined the trend by testing out self-driving electric shuttles earlier this year. A partnership between shuttle manufacturer Navya, fleet logistics firm Keolis, and the city of Las Vegas, gave local residents and visitors the chance to try out autonomous trips and provide feedback.

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