The North Carolina Department of Transportation is supporting a new all-electric autonomous shuttle pilot program recently launched by the North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University.
[Above photo by NCDOT]
The NCDOT noted in a statement that its Research and Development Unit provided nearly half a million dollars in state funding to a team of researchers at the school to not only support the development of the autonomous shuttles and a rural test track for them, but for the shuttles to operate on a route that connects the university to downtown Greensboro.
For about a month, the school will operate three Automated Driving System-equipped Polaris GEM E6 shuttles, taking passengers on a nearly 2-mile loop from the Harold L. Martin Sr. Engineering Research and Innovation Complex on campus to the Miriam P. Brenner Children’s Museum in downtown Greensboro. The free shuttle will operate from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on weekdays, the agency said.
[Editor’s note: In 2021, NCDOT conducted a similar autonomous shuttle pilot program for three months in partnership with the National Park Service at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills.]
NCDOT noted that this program will enable both the agency and the university to learn more about how to operate autonomous shuttles safely and efficiently in “real-world” settings, including how the vehicles can be use in both transit and microtransit operations, with the microtransit services targeted to help people living in rural and underserved communities.
The agency added that its Integrated Mobility Division will provide technical support and oversight for the pilot. Since 2020, NCDOT said its staff and various stakeholders have been testing autonomous shuttles in via the department’s Connected Autonomous Shuttle Supporting Innovation or “CASSI” program to discern how autonomous vehicles can best be used by riders with different needs and in different environments.
This pilot program is also part of a broader effort by NCDOT to explore to potential for autonomous transportation across different modes.
For example, in May, the agency launched a new initiative called Advance Mobility NC that seeks to combine work done within aviation, integrated mobility and rail divisions to create a shared, autonomous, and connected multimodal transportation system for improved access and mobility for both people and freight.
NCDOT aid at the time that this new endeavor will invest in new technologies to improve mobility, including autonomous transit vehicles, advanced air mobility, on-demand transportation services, mobility hubs, connected streets, and freight transfer hubs as part of the three-year strategic plan that it expects to formally adopt in 2024.