Autonomous bus demo showcases innovative transportation technology

Passengers stepping onto busOn Monday, April 30, an innovative demonstration of a self-driving EZ10 All Electric Autonomous Bus offered free rides to students, staff, faculty, and the public across the Washington Avenue Bridge on the University of Minnesota campus.

More than 450 people took a three-minute ride across the bridge during the demo, which was organized by the U of M’s Parking & Transportation Services, CTS, the Humphrey School’s State and Local Policy Program, the University Office of Sustainability, and First Transit, Inc.

The EZ10 Autonomous Shuttle is an all-electric, 12-passenger vehicle that operates along a pre-set route using GPS and other technology to guide its path. Sensing technology installed in the vehicle ensures a smooth and safe ride even in heavy pedestrian/vehicle traffic.

The maximum vehicle speed is 25 miles per hour, but it traveled at about 6 miles per hour during the demo. The bus is also fully accessible for passengers of all abilities.

Autonomous busThe EZ10 Autonomous Shuttle “It’s sort of surreal seeing the technology that’s been talked about actually happening in real life,” one student rider said.

“I thought it was really impressive that it stops in the same spot,” said U of M junior Pheylan Anderson. “You can see the tracks from it having taken the same exact route every time.”

In addition to showcasing the latest in self-driving technology, the demo also allowed riders to learn more about how autonomous vehicles may be used to deliver future transportation services and provide sustainable linkages to other transportation modes and facilities.

Anderson said he could envision the technology being applied on campus. “Because of its size, it could get into the areas of campus that buses currently can’t…especially if they designated lanes for them.”

A line of people waiting to board the automated busThe bus is in Minnesota as part of the Automated Shuttle Bus Pilot Project led by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT). Since last December, MnDOT has been working with 3M, bus manufacturer EasyMile, and First Transit to test the bus in Minnesota’s harsh winter conditions—the first cold-weather test of an EasyMile vehicle.

While the University of Minnesota has no specific plans to implement this technology, learning about its possible benefits and showcasing its potential supports research already under way to further develop autonomous vehicle systems at the U of M and around the world.


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