Minnesota Department of Transportation begins testing autonomous shuttle bus


On Dec. 12, an EasyMile-manufactured autonomous shuttle bus made its debut on the road in Minnesota, as a part of the Minnesota Department of Transportation's (MnDOT) autonomous shuttle bus pilot project.

The vehicle operated in light snow, which is productive for the overall goal of the pilot project, which is to test and analyze how autonomous vehicles operate in cold weather.

“I can't think of a better day in Minnesota to show off and test this autonomous technology,” says MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle, via the Star Tribune. “We have just the right amount of snowflakes, a little ice on the road.”

Testing took place at MnDOT’s pavement test facility (MnROAD), which is a self-contained area in Monticello, Minnesota that is closed off to normal traffic. For Zelle, the opportunity to test this technology in less than ideal conditions is greatly beneficial.

“We have a unique opportunity to test this vehicle in compromised conditions,” Zelle adds. “This is not California.”

Using a series of lasers, the vehicle can identify potential roadblocks, and those lasers were put to use during its Dec. 12 drive, as the bus stopped when a snow squall kicked up near its nose. The vehicle also stopped as it tried to reconnect to its server.

The pilot project will last through February. During the last weekend in January, and the first weekend in February, the vehicle will be tested on a closed segment of Nicollet Mall, giving the public a view of the technology during Super Bowl LII festivities in Minnesota.

“The Nicollet Mall demonstration will introduce the technology, let people get on it and see if it works,” says Frank Douma of the University of Minnesota.

Douma adds that when it comes to this technology, he's learned not to put a timeframe on when it could be potentially ready and available to the public, saying, "one thing I've learned about this technology is that if you put a date on it, it will happen earlier."