Meet Olli: Sacramento State unveils new 3D-printed, electric-powered autonomous shuttles

See how Sac State’s new self-driving shuttle – aka Ollie – works

Ride along as we check out Olli, a new self-driving shuttle at Sacramento State on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. The shuttle is made of 3D-printed parts.
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Ride along as we check out Olli, a new self-driving shuttle at Sacramento State on Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. The shuttle is made of 3D-printed parts.

Sacramento State students will be among the first in the world to get around campus with the latest technology after the university on Thursday unveiled two new electric, autonomous shuttles made up of 3D-printed parts.

For the next 90 days, these shuttles, named Olli by development company Local Motors, will be circling campus on a pre-programmed loop, picking up and dropping off up to eight students at a time, according to company CEO Jay Rogers.

An attendant with an emergency brake will accompany each shuttle to ensure safety, but the Ollis will stop on their own for potential hazards, scanning their surroundings with lidar — a radar-like system that uses reflected lasers for positioning — plus traditional radar, cameras and GPS maps, Rogers said.

These three months will serve as a trial period of the technology that will be used to collect data on the autonomous vehicles, according to Tony Lucas, director of University Transportation and Parking Services. Afterward, the shuttles will be sent elsewhere, Lucas said.

Local Motors held a challenge last year, asking for autonomous fleet proposals to solve transportation problems in the greater Sacramento and Phoenix areas. Sacramento State and the East Valley Institute of Technology in Mesa, Ariz., won.

The two Ollis cost $100,000 to implement, $90,000 of which was provided by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. The remaining $10,000 came from the university, Lucas said.

“This is a day that in my life I never thought I would experience, but it’s a day that marks change and change for the better,” Sacramento State President Robert Nelsen said. “Our students are going to be able to work on these, they’re going to be able to help design better Ollis in the future — we’re at the cutting edge.”

Over the next three months, certain students will be able to gain hands-on experience developing and upgrading the Ollis, Nelsen said.

Civil engineering professor Ghazan Khan, who specializes in transportation engineering and is the chair of Sacramento State’s Transportation Advisory Committee, said civil engineering students will be working with the Ollis and he hopes to get more mechanical engineering and computer science students involved as well.

Khan said students will be studying the shuttles’ behavior to see how effectively they respond to hazards.

“How does the vehicle interact with the environment? Is it watching out for pedestrians? Is it watching out for squirrels? We’ve got lots of squirrels on our campus, that’s one of our major concerns here,” Khan said.

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Students will also be analyzing data collected from the Ollis to examine popularity, user experience and determine whether riders have any apprehensions regarding autonomous vehicles.

Khan said it will serve as a teachable moment as well for the engineering and computer science students, who will be asked to create their own survey and improve it over the next three months.

“Keep in mind, the main purpose of this shuttle is mobility on our campus,” Khan said.

Matt Rivett, a vice president at Local Motors, said the Ollis record their cabin and exterior video feeds, which the company will review and then share resulting data with Sacramento State, though details are still being worked out with regards to how much and what kind of data.

Video footage from the Olli could potentially be used in crime prevention at some point in the future, Rivett said.

“Pretty soon this is going to seem like it’s completely normal, because it is — it is normal. It was just an easy ride,” Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg said after taking a ride in an Olli.

The shuttles will be stored and recharged in Sacramento State’s new Parking Structure 5, Nelsen said. Ollis have a range of about 35 miles and take about an hour to charge, according to Local Motors, which is based in Chandler, Ariz.

Congresswoman Doris Matsui, who represents the 6th District in Sacramento, emphasized the potential of electric vehicles and alternative transportation.

She said the electric vehicles support the state’s efforts to vastly cut carbon emissions. “What we’re doing ... is experiencing the world’s first 3D-printed, co-created autonomous vehicle right here on this college campus.”

Ollis currently are operating in Adelaide, Australia; Akron, Ohio; the State University of New York at Buffalo, and Seoul, South Korea, Rivett said.

Two driverless vehicles arriving at Sacramento State in February 2019 will offer students, faculty and staff an innovative transportation option along a designated campus route.

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Vincent Moleski covers business and breaking news for The Bee and is a graduate student in literature at Sacramento State. He was born and raised in Sacramento and previously wrote for the university’s student newspaper, the State Hornet.