Minneapolis riders invited to hop autonomous shuttle for wintry tryout

Updated Jan 17, 2018
A model of the EasyMile autonomous shuttle will carry passengers in downtown Minneapolis in a cold-weather tryout the week before Super Bowl 2018.A model of the EasyMile autonomous shuttle will carry passengers in downtown Minneapolis in a cold-weather tryout the week before Super Bowl 2018.

The week before the city hosts Super Bowl LII, the public will be allowed to hop an autonomous shuttle in downtown Minneapolis as part of the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s efforts to introduce self-driving vehicles.

The EZ10 vehicle is manufactured by EasyMile and operated by First Transit. With no steering wheel, it operates on pre-mapped routes. The driverless, electric shuttle transports up to 12 people, with half seated and the other half standing.

On January 26, 27 and 28, the short, free rides will be offered on Nicollet Mall from Third Street to Fourth Street.

This will be the first use of this vehicle in Minnesota and EasyMile’s first official test in a harsh winter weather environment, including snow and ice, MnDOT says.

The bus is undergoing a series of winter weather conditions at MnDOT’s MnROAD facility near Monticello, Minnesota, from December 2017 through March 2018. This closed loop, which is not open to other traffic, allows for safely testing the vehicle in snow, ice, frigid cold weather this week, and salt-covered road conditions.

This shuttle has already transported more than 160,000 people and logged more than 60,000 miles around the world, the agency says.

Vehicle automation is defined into five levels, and the higher the level, the more automated the vehicle is, according to MnDOT.

Earlier this month, at a press briefing, MNDOT showed the media the test bus on a 2.5-mile test track in Monticello. That kicked off the four-month, $200,000 test of autonomous vehicles that will also feature the block-long test in downtown Minneapolis the week before the Super Bowl, which is February 4.

The introduction of autonomous vehicles provides commuters with many benefits including increased safety, less traffic congestion and more transportation options, according to the EasyMile (ASCE).

The group, which represents 150,000 civil engineers in private practice, government, industry, and academia, points to efforts like this and others around the country as necessary to ensure that America’s infrastructure is prepared for the future and that engineers consider emerging technology.

ASCE says shuttles will be able to take transit users from home to a transit stop and back, enabling more commuters to use public transportation, which will ease traffic congestion.

“Creators of these innovative vehicles are also hoping for small autonomous shuttles to fill in the transportation gaps where necessary, serving commuters with short ‘first-mile, last-mile’ trips,” ASCE says in a December 15 news release.

MnDOT notes that connected and Automated Vehicle (AV) technology is rapidly advancing around the country and the world. These vehicles have the potential to reduce crashes by minimizing human factors during driving, the agency says. As the technology advances, Minnesota is monitoring and testing how this technology works in  winter-weather conditions.

 Among benefits of autonomous vehicle technology:

  • Safer roads
  • Improved mobility services
  • Reduced congestion
  • Fuel efficiency
  • Reduced energy consumption
  • Cleaner environment
  • Better land use

Source: MnDOT 2017