There are so many companies working on autonomous driving these days that it’s hard to keep track and now we can add another one to the list.

Proterra, a US-based manufacturer of battery-powered buses, wants to add autonomous driving capability to its fleet of electric buses. They announced this week a deal to join the University of Nevada, Reno’s Living Lab Coalition to work on autonomy for public transit.

Ryan Popple, CEO of Proterra, recently said that electric buses are now cheaper than diesel/CNG and could dominate the market within 10 years. While fuel is the biggest cost of operation, the company is looking at autonomous driving to further drive the cost down and increase safety in the process.

The coalition includes the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC), the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, the Nevada Governor’s Office for Economic Development, Fraunhofer Institute for Transportation and Infrastructure Systems IVI, and the cities of Reno, Sparks and Carson City, Nev.

They described the program in a press release:

“Unlike other programs to date, this autonomous vehicle pilot will deal with real road conditions from the perspective of public transit systems, and emphasize the most challenging aspects related to mass transportation, which include dense and dynamic environments, degraded conditions, and a need for swift emergency response. The pilot will also explore a new set of robotic perception algorithms that are required to address these conditions, and focus on tight cues from multi-modal sensors and new multi-modal localization and mapping. Rather than solely detect traffic, the Living Lab will focus on predicting traffic flows and plans to enhance safety. The University’s current work focuses on the problems of vehicle perception, navigation control, path planning and vehicle-to-vehicle as well as vehicle-to-infrastructure research.”

Nevada has been one of the few states at the forefront of autonomous driving legislation and a few companies, like Uber’s Otto, made it their first ground for testing.

Carlos Cardillo, PhD Director of the Nevada Center for Applied Research at the University of Nevada, Reno, commented on the announcement:

“Autonomy is key for safety, efficiency and reliable transportation systems at scale. Our shared vision is to have robust, long-term autonomy to enable safer modes of transit. In the pilot, we plan to research and develop a robust set of algorithms for localization and mapping, object detection in the domains of multi-modal fusion and recognition of intent to ultimately advance robotic perception and move systems closer to our simultaneous goal of enhancing safety. The project involves University researchers in advanced-autonomous systems, computer sciences, synchronized mobility, robotics and civil engineering.”

Popple also commented on the announcement:

“As more and more communities take steps to integrate autonomous vehicles, we will continue to advance mobility solutions that best meet those evolving needs, while embracing the highest safety standards on the market. We see the Living Lab pilot as a way to support ongoing safety improvements, encourage technology develop in autonomous vehicles, and better understand complex road dynamics.”

Earlier this year, Proterra managed to secure a large $140 million round of financing and they are using the money to ramp up production. They say that they already delivered in 380 buses, but the backlog of orders keeps growing.

The company recently hired Tesla’s former Vice President of Manufacturing to lead a production expansion at their facility in Greenville, South Carolina, and their new factory in Los Angeles County in order to satisfy the increasing demand.

About the Author

Fred Lambert's favorite gear