Research News

Self-driving shuttle Olli makes public debut

Olli, the self-driving electric shuttle.

Ryan Clancy from Local Motors, the company that developed Olli, discusses the vehicle with UB student researchers. The vehicle is for research purposes only - not transporting students. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CORY NEALON

Published August 10, 2018

You may have noticed the vehicle — it resembles a Fred Flintstone teardrop camper, but with many more windows — parked in the Center for Tomorrow Lot, or tooling around the back roads near Helm Warehouse and Crofts Hall.

That’s Olli, and the self-driving electric shuttle that advances New York State as a hub for autonomous vehicle research made its public debut yesterday as part of the Fourth Annual Symposium on Transportation Informatics. The two-day conference at UB brings together nationwide leaders in next-generation transportation technologies.

Olli, the self-driving electric shuttle.

Olli works its way through the Center for Tomorrow parking lot. Photo: Douglas Levere

Ultimately, UB researchers will use Olli — as well as other vehicles and simulators — to conduct comprehensive testing of autonomous and connected vehicles. The goal is to inform decisions regarding policy, safety, reliability and other future transportation issues.

While UB has no current plans to transport students in the shuttle, researchers will examine the feasibility and benefits of doing so on UB campuses, including the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.

The Olli project — co-managed by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT) — supports Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s ambitious clean energy goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

The shuttle, which is mostly 3D printed, is capable of seating eight passengers and reaching 25 mph. It was developed by Local Motors, a ground mobility company. Additional support comes from the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus Inc., Niagara International Transportation Technology Coalition and Wendel Architecture, Engineering, Surveying & Landscape Architecture P.C.

A UB student points to one of the sensors on Olli, the self-driving electric shuttle.

A UB student points to one of the sensors on Olli. The vehicle uses sensors, including radar and cameras, to monitor the driving environment. Photo: Douglas Levere

“We’re excited to have the Olli shuttle on campus, advancing the state as a leader in driverless technology while expanding our knowledge of human-automation interaction, critical to understanding artificial intelligence and machine learning” says Venu Govindaraju, vice president for research and economic development. “We’ve designed UB’s ecosystem — from world-class researchers and facilities to dynamic partnerships with government and industry — to support these opportunities that foster discovery, innovation and collaboration.”

Alicia Barton, president and CEO of NYSERDA, says Olli “represents a significant milestone in advancing Gov. Cuomo’s commitment to providing cleaner technologies to reduce harmful emissions from the state’s transportation sector.”

“The Olli project serves as another example of the private public collaboration that is driving the expansion of our clean energy economy and innovative technologies,” Barton says.

Matthew Rivett, executive vice president of Local Motors, notes the company’s partnership with UB is the first of its university partnerships. “We are excited to see how Olli will enhance the lives of the students and faculty alike.”

Why UB and New York State?

UB has extensive experience in transportation research and computer science and engineering, two critical fields in the development of autonomous vehicles.

In recent years, a team of UB researchers led by Adel Sadek, professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering, and Chunming Qiao, SUNY Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Computer Science and Engineering, have received several awards to boost the university’s research enterprise in connected and autonomous vehicles. One of these projects aims to build a unique research platform that syncs driving, traffic and wireless networking simulators to test and evaluate connected and autonomous vehicles.