Minnesota testing cold-weather driverless shuttle bus

MONTICELLO, Minn. – A driverless shuttle bus that could someday carry transit passengers in cities across the country recently was tested in the frigid temperatures of Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Autonomous Bus Project, a pilot program for pilotless vehicles that will help determine how they operate in cold weather, tested the vehicle on the MnROAD cold-weather pavement testing facility, a self-contained area in Monticello not open to normal traffic.

The public will get a peek at the project during Super Bowl LII festivities, when the buses debut on Nicollet Mall, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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

“As we think about the future, autonomous vehicles are being tested and have gained great attention throughout the world and certainly in the United States. We have a unique opportunity to test this vehicle in compromised conditions. This is not California.”

MnDOT’s test program uses a shuttle bus manufactured by EasyMile, a French company specializing in driverless technology. Maplewood-based 3M provides films that protect and enhance the sensors in inclement weather.

The vehicle, which can hold up to 12 people, runs on a pre-mapped route with an average speed of about 15 miles per hour.

Joseph Holmes, EasyMile’s sales director, told the Star Tribune that the bus has been tested in California and in the Arlington, Texas, entertainment district between the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Rangers stadiums.

“We’ve had no accidents,” Holmes said, noting the buses are designed to work in more controlled environments, such as preplanned communities.

EasyMile has also tested the vehicle in Finland and Norway, but Minnesota will be the first cold-weather test case in the United States. The project will last through February and take into account the salt used on Minnesota’s roads.

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