By Scott Prater | Mountaineer staff
FORT CARSON, Colo. — Fort Carson will take a leap into the future Sept. 14, 2020, as leaders will kick off a new program that transports people around post in a vehicle that drives itself.
The Automated Vehicle (AV) pilot program was announced last month. But, in the last few weeks, the AV team has arrived on post and started testing.
U.S. Army Garrison Fort Carson Commander Col. Nate Springer will join AV pilot program leaders at Pershing Field to officially launch the yearlong program Sept. 15, 2020, at 9:30 a.m.
Springer and pilot program leaders will educate and inform attendees and introduce the vehicle, which will be augment the Fort Carson shuttle service, during the ceremony. Attendees will then get a chance to take a test ride in the shuttle.
The AV is on track to begin operating as an evening post shuttle starting Sept. 16, 2020, and will then run routinely Monday through Friday from 5:30-9:30 p.m.
“Fort Carson is excited to host this automated technology pilot project,” said Chris Degaray, director, Plans, Analysis and Integration Office. “We believe the evening shuttle service will enhance Soldier mobility around the installation and improve their quality of life. Fort Carson is often at the leading edge of emerging technology, and this project is just one more way we can showcase innovation while meeting installation needs.”
Visually, the AV looks similar to a shuttle van and feature large windows, but there’s one key difference — the AV is completely automated, or autonomous, which means the vehicle uses advanced technology to drive itself.
Understandably, the idea of riding around on Fort Carson roads in a vehicle that has no driver would make most people a bit uneasy. That’s one reason program leaders have required that a safety operator ride aboard the AV at all times.
“A specially trained First Transit safety operator is always on board the shuttle and has the ability to take over manual control at any time,” Degaray said. “However, the vehicles are capable of performing all driving functions independently under prescribed conditions along the shuttle route and are equipped with multiple sensors for detecting and avoiding collision with pedestrians and other vehicles.”
Degaray explained that the safety of Soldiers riding the shuttle is the garrison’s No. 1 priority.
“The garrison safety manager has been part of this initiative from the beginning, working with U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) and our industry partners to ensure this project is as safe as it can be,” he said.
Officially titled the Fort Carson Smart Transportation Testbed, the program is a $4 million initiative funded and managed by the ERDC and implemented in partnership with Fort Carson, US Ignite, the city of Colorado Springs and the University of Colorado Boulder’s Research and Engineering Center for Unmanned Vehicles (RECUV). AV technology for the testbed is provided by First Transit in partnership with Perrone Robotics.
Project leaders said there are three main components to the pilot project, a yearlong operational test of two automated vehicles on the installation, implementation of a wireless network designed to enable data gathering from roadside sensors and through daily downloads from the AVs, and testing of unmanned aerial vehicles used to scan for ground debris at Butt’s Army Airfield.
Researchers will analyze data collected during project with the long-term goal of developing machine-learning models that prioritize transportation resources based on usage rates and community needs
The project is also designed to serve as a research and development model for smart military installations nationally and will demonstrate the advantages of using wireless telecommunications networks and automated vehicles.
Throughout the year, Degaray indicated that feedback will be important as the project moves forward.
“The Fort Carson garrison wants to hear from riders,” he said. “This feedback allows us to provide a high quality of service to Soldiers and Families, and it allows us to make adjustments as needed. We are hoping to hear from users of the shuttle on how the technology works, routes, hours of operation and any other feedback they have. Their feedback will be used to potentially modify how the shuttle is operating as well help future AV projects on Fort Carson and the U.S. Army.”