Michigan State University’s newest addition to its smart mobility ecosystem, an electric autonomous bus, is now officially accepting passengers. The autonomous bus is one of the largest of its kind to be deployed on U.S. roadways to date.
First introduced in November 2021 during a ribbon-cutting ceremony, the bus has now completed extensive on-campus testing – including more than 650 test runs of its route spanning all hours of the day – to make the official deployment possible. As part of the process to green light accepting passengers, validation of the bus, route and infrastructure was granted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
This new mode of transportation for students, faculty, staff and visitors was made possible through a collaboration with the state of Michigan, bus manufacturer Karsan and Michigan-based ADASTEC, which focuses on delivering SAE Level-4 Automated Driving Software Platforms for commercial vehicles – software that allows vehicles to operate without any human interaction.
“Michigan State University is driving the future of mobility and revolutionizing the way people and goods safely move throughout the world through our breadth of research, traffic management, engineering, public policy and sociomobility efforts,” said MSU President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. “We are pleased to help our state further extend its mobility leadership with this new addition to our campus.”
The 27-foot, 22-seat Karsan Autonomous e-ATAK bus will begin its journey each weekday morning at 9 a.m. from the MSU Commuter Lot (#89) at the intersection of Farm Lane and Mt. Hope Road. The bus’s 2.5-mile route will run nonstop, roundtrip approximately every 45 minutes from the Commuter Lot Bus Stop (#4) to the MSU Auditorium. The bus runs Monday through Thursday, 9:45 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. and Fridays from 9:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m., with the last departures from Lot 89 of the day at 1:30 p.m. and noon respectively.
Traffic lights along the route are outfitted with intelligent roadside units and communicate with the bus to enable vehicle to infrastructure (V2I) interoperability. As an added safety measure, a licensed bus driver as a safety driver and operator from ADASTEC’s Ann Arbor office will be onboard at all times, prepared to take control instantly if needed.
Autonomous e-ATAK, offering Level 4 autonomy, was developed and produced for autonomous use by bus manufacturer Karsan, and updated with ADASTEC’s software platform, named flowride.ai. The platform incorporates a range of sensor, safety and mapping equipment on the bus that also supports data sharing, mission control and fleet management operations. The bus is also outfitted with a wheelchair ramp along with audio messaging for accessibility.
“This is a historic milestone in our mobility efforts, and we are thrilled to have our electric autonomous bus accept riders on campus,” said Satish Udpa, Interim Director of MSU Mobility and University Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Member of the State of Michigan’s Council on Future Mobility and Electrification. “We couldn’t have brought this project to fruition without the help of Karsan, which provided the bus and technical assistance; ADASTEC, which provides the autonomous technology, testing and extensive technical support; and the state of Michigan, which awarded ADASTEC a $100,000 grant through the Michigan Office of Mobility and Electrification.”
“MSU’s connected and diverse campus offers an excellent real-world proving ground in every type of weather for showcasing the immense capabilities of the Karsan Autonomous e-ATAK. This is an important step taken toward the future of safe and sustainable mobility,” said Okan Bas, CEO of Karsan.
“We are very excited to extend our flowride.ai SAE Level-4 Automated Driving Software Platform, which is integrated into the Autonomous e-ATAK, to MSU in partnership with Karsan. Through this project, the Autonomous e-Atak featuring flowride.ai has become the first and only SAE Level-4 automated bus that has NHTSA approval and is deployed in the U.S. We are honored to be a part of the project with valuable partners. Moreover, this project will contribute key data to autonomous driving and to future mobility innovations. It is a pleasure to partner with MSU to mark milestones in making public transportation operations more efficient, more comfortable and safer,” said Dr. Ali Peker, CEO of ADASTEC.
Data that MSU will collect and analyze from the bus includes V2I (vehicle to infrastructure) communication technologies as well as experiential learning from persons with disabilities to inform future design considerations.
“This electric autonomous bus will be a great tool to offer MSU students, staff and visitors to the area a glimpse into the future of mobility,” said Trevor Pawl, Michigan’s Chief Mobility Officer. “We look forward to updates from MSU on the lessons learned from this type of public transportation on its connected campus.”
To learn more about the bus and its schedule, as well as MSU Mobility initiatives, visit www.mobility.msu.edu.