Friday, August 12, 2022

Self driving shuttles debut on Colorado School of Mines campus

The School of Mines school in Colorado is launching a new driverless shuttle fleet that will drive passengers around campus and downtown Golden. The fully electric vehicles were built by French Company EasyMile and mark the largest deployment of autonomous vehicles in the United States.

The shuttles are not meant to replace traditional buses. The Ez10 Shuttles can carry Six people at a time. Since this is still a new technology they can’t go faster than 20 miles per hour. This is for safety reasons.

Mines President Paul Johnson said the school was the perfect place to test out this new technology. The school is contributing just over $512,000 towards its operations and infrastructure, part of which is funded with student fees. It’s a highly discounted cost thanks to contributions from the school’s partners. 

“From an engineering school standpoint, it’s a bunch of components, right?” Johnson said at an event launching the shuttles on Tuesday. “There’s novel materials in there, there’s battery systems in there, there are control systems in there, there’s artificial intelligence in these things. These are all things that we work on on the Mines campus. I’m really looking forward to not just what it does functionally for us, but what it’s going to do to really excite and inspire the next generation of engineers.”

Biochemical engineering student Maggie Hurst said she was impressed by the technology and hopes to see more like it.

“It would be great for public transportation,” she said. “I think it would have a great environmental impact, to replace buses with autonomous vehicles.”

The launch event took place on a hot summer day as California wildfire smoke blanketed the sky and turned it grey. Speakers spoke about the environmental impact of replacing fossil fuel-consuming vehicles with emission-free machines like the new shuttles.

“It’s innovation and creativity like this that make Colorado the envy of states across the country,” she said.

Sharad Agarwal, senior vice president for EasyMile, said more launches in Greenwood Village and Colorado Springs are on the horizon. He envisions these types of vehicles — which he describes as “toasters on wheels” — will become more prominent in the coming years.

“It’s really a ‘when,’ not an ‘if’ question. I think we’re going to see deployments like ours when we’re running at sub-20 miles an hour at airports, corporate campuses, and universities, within a couple of years,” Agarwal said. 

A total of nine autonomous shuttles will operate along three fixed routes in and around the Mines campus. Rides are free to students. 

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