University at Buffalo researching, and planning to test, recently acquired driverless bus


The University at Buffalo (UB) recently purchased a driverless Olli bus that it plans on testing once the bus is delivered to the university, which is expected to happen towards the end of April.

A product of Local Motors that has been tested in several countries throughout Europe, the Olli bus will be operated by researchers at UB on private or sanctioned-off roads on UB’s campus.  

New York State law requires that the bus be operated on North Campus’ Service Road, which is not public. If UB researchers want to test the bus on public roads, they must apply to test through the DMV, pay $5,000,000 in liability fees and arrange for a police escort. New York has allowed UB to test its newly-purchased vehicle on campus roads.

According to civil, structural and environmental engineering professor Dr. Adel Sadek, UB would like to use the vehicle to “complement what the Metro line has provided.” Sadek says that “the Metro line will get you to the station, but you have to make the last mile of the trip,” so investigators on this project are hoping that the Olli bus will address this need.

​According to Sadek, the project will focus on a variety of concerns, including the “technical and economic feasibility of the bus, detection of pedestrians or obstacles and whether it can run in Buffalo weather.”

Dr. Chunming Qiao, a SUNY distinguished professor and chair of the computer science department, echoes Sadek’s statements.

“We are concerned whether it can operate in a campus environment under inclement weather,” Qiao says via the Spectrum, which is UB’s independent student publication.

“These are technical issues with sensors, controls and there are in fact a lot of regulatory policy issues we are navigating through because this is one of the first times something like this has been done in the state.”

​While this experience will be new for UB, Sadek is still happy to participate in this project, largely because of what it could mean for the university.

“UB has always been trying to build capacity in the area of testing autonomous vehicles,” Sadek says. “We hope to be a leader in New York State in that area; nationally too. Our niche at this point is about testing and evaluation.”

Capable of seating 12 people, the Olli bus is made up of 3D printed material, it uses 360-degree sensors to drive, and it is not equipped with a steering wheel. The vehicle runs on an electrical charge.

Typically, the Olli bus costs more than $300,000, but UB purchased the bus at a discounted cost of $250,000. Most of this purchase was funded by New York State Energy and Research Development Authority and the state’s Department of Transportation, with UB paying for the remaining $40,000 the state couldn’t pay.