The driverless bus has arrived in Minnesota to test our unforgiving winters

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The days of road rage over that SUV cutting you off, or misinterpreting between the gentle-versus-aggressive honk, may soon be over as Minnesota speeds toward the world of self-driving vehicles. Well, maybe not exactly speeds, as the new EZ10 autonomous shuttle bus only goes about 10 miles an hour, but you get the idea.

This month, MnDOT tested the state’s first driverless vehicle at their MnROAD testing facility in Monticello. On this closed and controlled loop, MnDOT put the autonomous shuttle bus to the test driving through obstacles the vehicle will have to be able to maneuver in during Minnesota’s unrelenting winter months. MnDOT wants to make sure the shuttle can navigate safely in snow, ice, cold weather, and on salt-covered roads.

To make autonomous vehicles a reality, Minnesota has partnered with the France-based company EasyMile which has conducted and tested cold weather driverless technology in 14 other countries where the shuttle has operated crash-free. Leading the way, Minnesota is the first state in the U.S. where EasyMile has tested its self-driving vehicle technology.

Jay Hietpas, MnDOT state traffic engineer and project manager, is excited to work with EasyMile explaining, “Their expertise will help us learn how these vehicles operate in a winter weather environment so we can advance this technology and position MnDOT and Minnesota as a leader.”

Unfortunately, you won’t see a driverless shuttle whizzing down 94 just yet. The EZ10 electric shuttle bus runs at low speeds of 10-15 mph on pre-mapped routes. The shuttle can hold 6 to 12 people with some standing room and is fully equipped with light radars, sensors, cameras, and a GPS system. MnDOT has also partnered with 3M to help with sensor technology testing, Smart Code technology, and Machine Vision Detection technology in order for the shuttle to run smoothly.

Testing the autonomous vehicle technology at the Monticello facility has already brought to light a few challenges for the shuttle bus. The sensors sometimes struggled to find the route on the snow-covered roads and endeavored to determine whether falling snow was a road hazard leading the shuttle to inevitably stall requiring the shuttle operator to help get the bus going again.

With only a few hiccups, MnDOT is confident this technology is imperative for advancement and looking towards the future especially because Minnesota is a mass transit state. The population in the Twin Cities area alone is expected to double by 2040 increasing the need for public transportation and alternative solutions. With this autonomous technology, Minnesotans will be moving in the direction of safer roads, reduced traffic congestion, reduced energy consumption, better fuel efficiency, and a cleaner environment.

MnDOT will showcase the driverless technology rolling out the EZ10 shuttle bus during the week of the Super Bowl, where you’ll be able to test out the bus and experience this new technology for yourself.