Reno, Nevada, may not seem like the place to develop the country’s first self-driving public bus, but Richard Kelley thinks it presents all the right challenges. The buildings are taller than those in the office parks of the Silicon Valley, providing a good visual test for the complex algorithms. The weather is more taxing, arid with occasional snowfall.
Then there’s the foot traffic. “You have people who are just walking out of the casino,” says Kelley, the chief engineer at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Advanced Autonomous Systems Innovation Center. “They’re less predictable when they’re walking about.” If you’re teaching a 14-ton machine to navigate urban chaos by itself, Reno’s not a bad schoolyard.
On Tuesday, the University of Nevada, Reno announced the start of a three-phase project to get a real, live autonomous bus on the road by as early as 2019. The first stage starts June 1 when a sensor-laden, passenger-carrying electric bus built by California company Proterra, starts trawling a 3-mile route along busy Virginia Street. To start, a human driver will do all the work as the bus collects the data needed to navigate this first stretch. In stage two, researchers will use that info to build self-driving systems. By the third phase, they hope to commercialize and license the tech, and conquer even the craziest city streets.
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