By Scott Prater | Mountaineer staff
FORT CARSON, Colo. — This September 2020, Soldiers looking for a ride from their barracks to the commissary, exchange or the gym will be in luck. The Mountain Post is getting a new type of shuttle that is sure to turn heads, since it drives itself and runs on electricity.
The Army has partnered with several companies, including U.S. Ignite, First Transit and Perrone Robotics to operate a pair of automated vehicles (AV) as post shuttles during a yearlong pilot program.
“Fort Carson is the host site to test this technology,” said Tami Gale, community liaison, U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson. “The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) is funding the project, and it’s intent is to determine the benefits, costs and feasibility of autonomous technology on a military installation.”
The project is due to kick off Sept. 15, 2020, when First Transit will operate two Polaris GEM autonomous shuttles custom-configured by Perrone Robotics using their TONY (TO Navigate You) autonomy kit. The electric AVs, which support Level 5 automated capability, meaning they can perform all driving functions independently under any condition, will transport Soldiers within the Fort Carson Army installation while also collecting operational data.
Unlike many other AV pilots, the initiative at Fort Carson includes a significant focus on transportation planning as well as data analytics, assessment and modeling for future automated shuttle deployments. In addition to sensors and cameras on the vehicles, roadside cameras will be installed and connected to a dedicated wireless network along the route to capture information about the vehicle and pedestrian behavior surrounding the AV shuttles.
Those who may have some trepidation with riding in an automated vehicle may be comforted in knowing that a vehicle steward, who is capable of taking control if needed, will also ride in the vehicle.
Fort Carson already fields a robust shuttle service and maintains a fleet of traditional vans; however, the automated shuttles will extend the hours of service to key destinations.
“When Fort Carson leaders first learned of the project, they didn’t want to host the project just to host it, they wanted to solve a problem,” Gale said. “Using the shuttles to complement our post shuttle service made the most sense. New Soldiers coming to Fort Carson often don’t have transportation and our shuttle service stops at 6 p.m., so we’ve created a shuttle route for the evening that will take Soldiers from barracks to the Exchange, the Commissary and the Ivy gym, in a nice loop.”
Test operations at Fort Carson have already begun and safety protocols have been put in place to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
“This research will advance the U.S. ability to leverage automated transportation systems to improve mission readiness and mission assurance at installations in areas that include infrastructure, operations, security, economics, communications and planning to meet our National defense objectives,” said Jim Allen, program manager, ERDC. “Smart military posts, like smart cities around the country, must explore advancements in mobility and automation that leverage sensors and big data to optimize operational efficiencies and improve the lives of Soldiers and their Families.”
On-post motorists can expect to see the automated vehicles on post roads starting Sept. 15, 2020, but Gale said motorists shouldn’t be alarmed or drive differently than they would if encountering any other vehicle.
“The shuttles will have a top speed of 25 miles per hour,” she said.