Provide Careful Landscaping Maintenance along Automated Shuttle Routes, as Roadside Vegetation May Cause Challenges for AV Sensors.

Evaluation of Connected Electric Automated Vehicles in Columbus to Provide Connection to Existing Transit Routes and Support Food Pantry Delivery.

Date Posted

Primarily funded by the USDOT’s Smart City Challenge, the Smart Columbus Program is a collection of eight transportation, mobility and data studies aimed at improving access to jobs, enhancing tourism, stimulating the economy, connecting residents to safe and reliable transportation, and supporting efficient and sustainable movement of people and goods throughout Columbus. As part of the Smart Columbus Program, two Connected Electric Automated Vehicle (CEAV) deployments of shuttles equipped with a suite of LiDAR sensors, 360-degree cameras, and GPS to achieve SAE J3016 Level 5 (Full Driving Automation) were demonstrated. The goal of the study was to aid travelers by improving access to downtown attractions and to provide better connection between existing transit routes and jobs and businesses.

  • The first CEAV deployment (Smart Circuit) was located along the Scioto Mile in downtown Columbus which served various attractions and cultural resources. The operation of the shuttles started from December 2018 until September 2019, seven days a week from 6am to 10pm. Around 16,062 passengers (59 riders per day) took the Smart Circuit shuttle. The six shuttles drove 19,118 miles during the demonstration.
  • The second CEAV deployment (Linden Leap) served first and last mile connection to transit in Linden, Columbus. The Linden Leap automated shuttle was announced and distributed to 3,681 residents. The service launched in February 2020 and operated for two weeks, in which 50 passengers took rides. Following the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Linden Leap transformed its mission to be a food pantry delivery service, delivering food boxes from St. Stephen to Rosewind, a large public housing development in the city of Columbus. During the demonstration period from July 2020 to April 2021, the shuttle service delivered 100 boxes of food per week.

The lessons learned of this project offered insight on the automated technology limitations, route design standards for the AV shuttles, roadway conditions and geometry, and weather conditions.

  • Perform a review of the surrounding environment and businesses in route selection for automated shuttles to identify and mitigate potential impacts on vulnerable populations. NHTSA Route Approval does not have a defined timeline and therefore may impact the deployment schedule, depending on the complexity of the route and surrounding facilities (e.g., childcare). Including a testing route submission prior to the full route submission is highly recommended to maintain the overall deployment schedule.
  • Learn about the limitations of the automation technology as complete autonomy may be weather-dependent and affected by other variables. Precipitation hindered the operation of the automated vehicles. This study found that weather (mild fog, light snow etc.) presented significant challenges to the shuttles' autonomy. Additionally, sun glare caused the vehicles to slow down and the colder months caused the vehicles to stop suddenly (due to the exhaust from the gasoline-powered vehicles). It is suggested to consider including other accommodations to serve riders who rely on the operation if there is a daily route being serviced.
  • Define the data collection method and frequency of transmission. For the Smart Circuit procurement, not all of the data expected were produced as vendors were sensitive about sharing data. Data requirements should be explicit to ensure that the appropriate data are received. This lesson was applied successfully in the procurement of the Linden LEAP route, with a data table and transmission requirements specified in the request for proposal (RFP).
  • Consider the time of year of the route evaluations. Since the Linden vehicles had arrived in December, the testing took place in the winter months. As the season changed, vegetation had emerged, changing the behavior of the automated technology. It is essential that there is regular engagement with staff on the landscaping of the routes to minimize interruptions in the automated operation.
  • Develop a manner to communicate when the shuttle is not in service. Large events or inclement weather may affect the automated driving capabilities. Forms of communication such as through a website, social media, or signage at station locations can be used to inform the public of shuttle' status.