The Minnesota Department of Transportation will begin testing the use of an autonomous bus in a cold weather climate.

“There’s not been much research done in the northern climates,” said Jay Hietpas, MnDOT state traffic engineer and director of the agency’s office of safety and technology. “Minnesota is the perfect state to test autonomous vehicles. We’re a mass transit state and we have cold and snowy weather.”

MnDOT will be issuing a request for proposals seeking technology partners to help safely demonstrate how autonomous technology works in a colder climate.

Testing will start with warm and cold weather testing at MnROAD, MnDOT’s test track facility near Albertville, Minn. MnROAD is used by researchers from around the world to test road building materials and designs.

“The low-speed 2.5 mile loop and high-speed 3.5 mile segment of MnROAD provide a safe and secure environment for testing autonomous vehicles in winter weather conditions,” Hietpas said.

After successful testing at MnROAD, a live test could be conducted the week of the 2018 Super Bowl, which is being hosted in Minnesota. Additional on-road tests may also be conducted at various locations around the state.

“We know the autonomous technology is coming fast, so MnDOT wants to be prepared with both the technology and the regulatory standards. We want to shape how this plays out,” Hietpas said.

He added there are many benefits to using an autonomous bus, including safer roads, improved mobility services, reduced congestion, reduced energy consumption, and a cleaner environment.

“The safety factor alone is a huge benefit,” he said. “Our fatality numbers have plateaued the past few years, but autonomous buses could help reduce fatalities.”

This isn’t MnDOT’s first research on autonomous or connected vehicles. MnDOT already has driver assist systems in its snowplows. The agency is currently researching other smart in-vehicles technologies, such as lane departure and advanced curve speed warning systems, roadway mapping for fog line detection, and intersection collision avoidance systems.

Autonomous vehicle technology and its potential impacts will be discussed at BusCon 2017. For more information, click here.

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