MSU Debuts Electric Autonomous Bus; to Grow EV Fleet by 369

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Michigan State University’s electric autonomous bus is now carrying passengers. // Courtesy of MSU
Michigan State University’s electric autonomous bus is now carrying passengers. // Courtesy of MSU

The newest addition to the smart mobility ecosystem at Michigan State University in East Lansing is an electric autonomous bus, one of the largest of its kind to be deployed on U.S. roadways to date.

The school also says it plans to convert 369 internal combustion engine vehicles in its fleet to fully electric vehicles over the next decade.

The new autonomous bus has 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,” says Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., president of MSU. “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.

The bus 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 also is 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,” says Satish Udpa, interim director of MSU Mobility.  “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.”

To learn more about the bus and its schedule, as well as other MSU Mobility initiatives, visit here.

MSU also announced that it is planning to convert 369 internal combustion engine vehicles in its fleet to fully electric vehicles over the next decade.

As electric vehicles and chargers become more mainstream, MSU will continue reevaluating the total cost of ownership and convert additional university vehicles, up to the 1,100 MSU owns. The commitment also moves the institution closer to its strategic plan goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050 and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent from its 2010 baseline. The conversion will decrease the university’s overall carbon footprint by 18,945 metric tons of carbon dioxide long-term — the equivalent of planting 312,584 trees.

“Our strategic plan challenges us to take action to create a better tomorrow for our university and those we serve,” Stanley says. “The transition to more electric vehicles in our fleet is one of many steps we are taking to achieve our goals while decreasing our carbon footprint for a brighter and greener future for Michigan State.”

To kickstart the transition, MSU has purchased 40 new electric vehicles — a mix of sedans, minivans, and light-duty pickup trucks — which are set to arrive this summer. And through Consumers Energy’s PowerMIFleet program, MSU is adding to its electrical charging grid to support the new vehicles.

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