Local Motors of Chandler, Arizona is a world leader in the manufacture of 3D-printed vehicles. Some of its offerings are just plain quirky, like the downright weird Cruiser E-Bike from 2014. But since then, it has focused its attention on building the autonomous electric shuttle it calls Olli. At this moment, Olli self-driving trams are in service in Adelaide, Akron, Seoul, and at the State University of New York at Buffalo.
Now, two Olli shuttles will be dropping off and picking up to 8 students at a time at Sacramento State in California for the next 90 days, according to Jay Rogers, CEO of Local Motors. The Sacramento Bee says an attendant will be on board at all times to operate an emergency brake if necessary but the autonomous shuttles will stop on their own for potential hazards, using a combination of lidar and radar sensors together with a number of cameras and a pre-programmed GPS map.
During the trial period, both Local Motors and Sacramento State will track the vehicles and gather data on how, when, and where they are used, according to Tony Lucas, director of University Transportation and Parking Services. At the end of the 90-day period, the vehicles will be relocated to another site.
“This is a day that in my life I never thought I would experience, but it’s a day that marks change and change for the better,” Sacramento State president Robert Nelsen said. “Our students are going to be able to work on these, they’re going to be able to help design better Ollis in the future — we’re at the cutting edge.” Each Olli has a range of about 35 miles and can be fully recharged in about an hour.
Ghazan Khan, a professor of civil engineering who specializes in transportation engineering and chair of the college’s Transportation Advisory Committee, said civil engineering students will be working with the Ollis and he hopes to get more mechanical engineering and computer science students involved as well.
He said students will be studying the shuttles’ behavior to see how effectively they respond to hazards. They will also be analyzing data collected from the Ollis to examine popularity, user experience, and determine whether riders have any apprehensions regarding autonomous vehicles.
“Keep in mind, the main purpose of this shuttle is mobility on our campus,” Khan said, before adding the trial period will serve as a teachable moment as well for the engineering and computer science students, who will be asked to create their own survey and improve it over the next three months. “How does the vehicle interact with the environment? Is it watching out for pedestrians? Is it watching out for squirrels? We’ve got lots of squirrels on our campus, that’s one of our major concerns here,” Khan said.
Matt Rivett, a vice president at Local Motors, said the Ollis record their cabin and exterior video feeds. His company will review and then share the data from those videos with Sacramento State, though details are still being worked out with regards to how much and what kind of data. “Pretty soon this is going to seem like it’s completely normal, because it is — it is normal. It was just an easy ride,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said after taking a ride in an Olli.