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Proterra begins first autonomous bus program in the US

Electric bus manufacturer Proterra is initiating the industry’s first autonomous bus program with the University of Nevada, Reno and its Living Lab Coalition partners including 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 the cities of Reno, Sparks and Carson City, Nev.

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 tight cues from multi-modal sensors and new multi-modal localization 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, long-term autonomy to enable safer modes of transit. 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.

—Dr. Carlos Cardillo, Director of the Nevada Center for Applied Research at the University of Nevada, Reno

The Living Lab program will include three main phases of research and development.

  • 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.

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


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