Driverless shuttles named ‘Olli’ coming to Sac State

Electric shuttles are ‘cute,’ says campus admin


Claire Morgan - The State Hornet

Olli travels down Moraga Way during it’s initial testing phase. The autonomous vehicles will being transporting students in late February.

Margherita Beale, managing editor

Soon, Sacramento State students and the community will have the opportunity to be shuttled through campus via two autonomous shuttles called Olli.

The electric shuttle, on loan from Local Motors, started testing its route on Moraga Way, the pathway between Amador Hall and Bay Laurel Way on Jan. 28. Once testing is complete, the shuttles will mimic the Herky Streetcar’s route.

According to Tony Lucas, senior director for Sac State’s University Transportation and Parking Services and Sac State alumnus, the shuttles are printed using 3D-technology and are sustainable, as they use batteries for power.

“I think our students are going to love it,” Lucas said. “For lack of a better word, it’s cute. It felt very safe to me. I can definitely see these things operating in a campus environment and serving our campus community. It feels like a natural fit.”

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While the vehicle is driverless, Lucas said that steps will be taken to ensure there is an attendant on board at all times. The attendants will be ready to take over the vehicle if necessary.

An operating station will be available for safety and to answer any questions regarding autonomous vehicles.

Olli is fitted with a ramp and will be accessible to passengers with mobility limitations. The operating run times are scheduled to be throughout most of the working day, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m, beginning in mid-February

The two vehicles will not be operating at the same time, but will switch off based on battery usage.

“Not everyone is going to feel comfortable riding an autonomous vehicle so we’re going to continue operating the Herky Streetcar,” Lucas said.

Civil engineering students, particularly ones with interest in transportation engineering, will also be interviewing riders and doing survey work. For them, Lucas said, this will be a good opportunity to work with and study cutting-edge technology.

While Olli is capable of speeds up to 30 mph, Lucas said it will drive between 5 to 8 mph the speed of a fast walk as it will operate in mixed-use route, along with pedestrians, bicycles and service vehicles.

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The shuttle will hold up to eight passengers and is scheduled to be on campus for 90 days during the spring semester. Lucas said the pilot project is key to finding out if this is a viable form of transportation for the university.

Sac State won the opportunity to use the electric shuttles in September through Local Motors’ Olli Fleet Challenge contest.

According to Lucas, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments Civic Labs will fund the $100,000 in-kind contribution. This is required in order for Sac State to accept the $400,000 award from Local Motors. Sac State and UTAPS will match about $10,000 required in order to accept the government funds from SACOG.

“I think this will be a successful pilot because it’s a nice fit,” Lucas said. “That’s what the pilot project is all about. To see if the campus community is receptive to AV technology.”