The National Park Service (NPS) and the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) have launched what it calls the first self-driving vehicle to be tested at a recreational public lands site.
Called the Connected Autonomous Shuttle Supporting Innovation (CASSI), the autonomous shuttles are designed to help NPS to learn about how driverless vehicles can be safely and effectively used on park lands. CASSI was launched at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, the site of the first powered flight.
While the autonomous shuttles do not need a driver or contain any cockpit or steering wheel, as part of the pilot, a trained operator will ride in the vehicle for passenger safety. The operator will monitor conditions of the vehicle and can manually stop the shuttle at any time. The vehicle operates at speeds between 8 mph and 12 mph.
CASSI will navigate through a fixed route around the Wright Brothers Memorial, museum shop and sculpture shop, dropping off passengers along the way. The shuttle will use lidar and GPS to map the route. Sensors will scan the shuttle’s surroundings and signal it to stop when an obstacle is too close. NCDOT is working with TransLoc for real-time tracking software and a map to keep riders updated on the location of the shuttles on the NCDOT’s website.
The pilot, which will last through July 16, will collect information such as the number of passengers, trips and battery use of the shuttle, NPS said. This data will be used to better understand how these vehicles perform for future pilots or deployments.
The shuttle rides are free but the number of passengers per shuttle trip is limited given the size of the vehicle and space limitations because of COVID-19.