Automated shuttle bus on project route between Iowa City and Kalona

Safety drivers 

A trained safety driver and co-pilot carefully monitor—and at times drive manually—the partially automated shuttle bus along a set 47-mile route that has been specially mapped for automated driving. The safety driver easily and quickly switches to manual driving at any time (as easy as taking a vehicle out of cruise control).

The vehicle

Our vehicle is different than many other AVs currently being tested, because it drives under automation:

  1. On gravel and other unmarked rural roads
  2. At highway speeds (up to 65 mph)

A Ford Transit shuttle bus has been outfitted at Hexagon | AutonomouStuff with custom technologies to allow the vehicle to perform at different levels of automation. The vehicle is wheelchair accessible (ADA compliant) and was purchased as part of the Buy America Act. The tech partners are also based in the Midwest: AutonomouStuff in Illinois for outfitting the vehicle with automated features, and Mandli Communications in Wisconsin for high-definition road mapping. 

The equipment on the vehicle is shown below. 

ADS for Rural America Transit with labeled equipment

  1. GPS antenna: works with a high-definition map of our route, which locates the vehicle on the road within 10 cm
  2. Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC) antenna
  3. Leopard traffic light cameras: detects color of traffic lights
  4. LiDARs (Light Detection and Ranging): uses scanning lasers to detect objects (on front, sides, and rear of vehicle)
  5. Webcam video camera (front and rear)
  6. Mobileye collision avoidance system
  7. Vaisala mobile detector: transmits road data, surface conditions, and weather data
  8. Long range radars: uses radio waves to detect objects (front and rear)

Other interior equipment and data collection devices are shown in the following graphic:

Outline graphic of automated shuttle bus, pointing out interior cameras, wearable physiologic sensor, on-board computer, etc.

Safety precautions

A safety driver is behind the wheel at all times, watching the road ahead and driving the vehicle manually anytime automations are not in use. A co-pilot in the front passenger seat is also monitoring the automations. An additional research team member is on board to work with study participants.

See our full Safety Management Plan.

Where do drives occur? 

Click for detailed rural route
Click for detailed rural route

The route is a 47 mile loop, driven clockwise, with four stops:

  • Iowa City Marketplace (formerly Sycamore Mall)
  • Hills Community Center
  • Riverside Casino
  • Kalona Public Library

Road types include:

  • Marked
  • Unmarked
  • Unpaved

Other variables:

  • Will span all four seasons of the year
  • Variety of weather conditions
  • Different times of day
  • Construction areas

The route is being mapped in high-definition—much more accurate than a standard GPS. This high-definition map works in tandem with the vehicle's on-board sensors to accurately place the vehicle on the road: either between lane markings (when available) or to the appropriate spot on the road (when lane markings are not present). 

Ford Transit automated shuttle bus photo gallery


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