Driverless shuttle experiment begins on NC State's campus

Driverless shuttles make their debut on NC State's campus

February 10, 2020 

Driverless shuttle

It’s a nice-looking shuttle bus: clean lines, bright colors, six comfortable seats, and enough for five to six additional people to stand. But look closer. There is nobody driving the vehicle.

Meet CASSI: Connected Autonomous Shuttle Supporting Innovation. North Carolina State University and the North Carolina Department of Transportation are partnering to bring the driverless shuttle to campus for a six-months test run. It’s the first such test in North Carolina. Students, staff, faculty and visitors can all ride during the pilot program on Centennial Campus.

CASSI will drive a one-mile loop around campus. It uses a combination of cameras, radar, GPS and laser sensors to steer itself on a pre-programmed route. There are three scheduled stops. The vehicle ‘s top speed is 12 miles per hour. It will go about eight miles per hour during its test at NC State. There are no extra stops; riders can’t hit a button asking to stop before or after the scheduled drop-off/pick-up point.

CASSI is made by EasyMile, it’s a French company that is developing self-driving vehicles. NCDOT is leasing the shuttle for one year so it can see how the technology works and begin thinking about where to use it in the state. Julie White, Deputy Secretary of Transportation for multi-model programs, says one lesson has already been learned. Tree branches along the route needed to be trimmed far back to keep from interfering with the shuttle’s radar and laser sensors.

Two other public tests are planned around the state, but the locations have not been identified yet. The project will help NCDOT and NC State researchers learn more about how autonomous vehicle technology can be safely and effectively used in the future. It will also study how well the public will accept and use the technology, and how autonomous vehicles can be integrated into environmentally friendly transportation solutions.

—Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci NC, a broadcast and online science series.