A 25-foot shuttle bus manufactured in Porterville will be made fully autonomous as part of a new business partnership. Photo via GreenPower

published on March 2, 2020 - 2:31 PM
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Coming soon to a street (but probably not near you): an all-electric, autonomous bus.

GreenPower Motor Company Inc., the Canadian-based electric bus maker with an assembly plant in Porterville, is partnering with a Virginia-based technology firm to make it happen.

GreenPower and Perrone Robotics have teamed up to develop the first all-electric, fully-autonomous transit bus, with portions being built in both Porterville and the latter company’s Virginia headquarters.

The EV Star shuttle, a 25-foot-long bus made by GreenPower, could be completed within 90 days, said GreenPower President Brendan Riley.

He noted this will not be a test vehicle, as the company has a buyer lined up who plans to put the bus on the road providing transit services, possibly within six-12 months.

“It will have a safety driver, at least for now,” said Riley, who declined to identify the customer, how that business plans to use the autonomous bus or even in which state it will be used.

“It won’t be in California,” he said.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and other sources report the Golden State, along with 10 others and the District or Columbia, allows the use of all types of autonomous vehicles on roads.

Four of those — California among them — don’t require safety drivers in the vehicles under any circumstances.

Riley said an EV Star is being converted to become autonomous, with Perrone Robotics providing the self-driving technology.

On its website, Perrone Robotics describes itself as having been “behind the first general-purpose robotics software platform for autonomous vehicles and robots. We call this platform MAX. We make the analogy that MAX is to robots as Windows is to computers or as Android is to smartphones.”

In recent years, “we wanted to zero in on places where we could deploy autonomous vehicles sooner rather than later. This led us to focus on last-mile shuttles and then to specific transit routes that operated in well-known spaces,” the website continues, stating that the company created its TONY (TO Navigate You) general autonomy system to be included in existing vehicles and is being added to GreenPower’s EV Star.

Riley noted that this will be a level-5 autonomous vehicle, able to navigate traffic without the need for a safety driver — unless required by law or the owner requires one — and stopping to pick up and drop off passengers, though once the first one is finished, Perrone will initiate a series of tests to certify it operates as it should.

On its website, Perrone officials report they have spent months successfully testing the TONY system in Virginia on a different shuttle bus.

If all goes as planned, Riley said GreenPower is considering building all of its buses to be capable of autonomous driving, if customers choose to add on the programming and if it’s legal where those buses will run.

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