The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has received the sixth in a series of zero-emission, autonomous test vehicles as it moves toward expanding, modernizing and replacing the Skyway monorail system.
At the same time, JTA is soliciting bids for what is anticipated to be a $44 million first phase project. JTA Vice President of Automation Bernard Schmidt told WJCT News Tuesday that JTA anticipates awarding an autonomous vehicle contract in early 2021.
The Olli 2.0, which JTA took possession of in late-August, is Local Motor’s first electric, 3D-printed autonomous shuttle to be built in the U.S.
“When we first announced our plan to retire the Skyway trains and replace them with autonomous vehicles, the JTA set the goal to keep up with the latest advancements. Receiving the first Olli 2.0 shuttle in the United States is proof of that commitment,” said JTA Chief Executive Officer Nathaniel P. Ford Sr. in an email to WJCT News.
JTA started its Ultimate Urban Circulator (U2C) in 2017 with a test track that ran along Metropolitan Park.
Since then, it has tested vehicles from vendors that include Beep, Easy Mile and NAVYA. Test vehicles have also been used to shuttle COVID-19 test kits at Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville campus.
The latest test vehicle represents a collaboration between partners that include Beep, Local Motors and Robotic Research.
“Deploying the first Olli 2.0 in the U.S. is a huge milestone for Local Motors and supports our mission to provide autonomous, accessible and connected mobility for all,” said Vikrant Aggarwal, president of Local Motors in the same email.
The Olli 2.0 also marks a step in the autonomous vehicle-learning partnership between JTA and Florida State College at Jacksonville that was announced in June. The Olli 2.0 will undergo testing at FSCJ’s Cecil Center Campus and JTA’s Armsdale Test & Learn facility.
“We are really engaged with FSCJ on developing their curriculum, developing internships, leveraging their students,” Schmidt said. FSCJ’s CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) test tracks were also of interest to JTA. Schmidt says he can envision a point down the road where he or other JTA autonomous experts might serve as adjunct professors.
The Armsdale track, which is near the Jacksonville International Airport, has indoor and outdoor testing areas that incorporate connected signals technology to help simulate the real-life situations the vehicles will face on public roads.
Schmidt said JTA has looked at a wide variety of testing locations - 22 in all. “We’ve also looked at doing something for the Jaguars. We looked at doing something over at the Naval Base, and we looked at doing something at Jacksonville University,” said Schmidt. He said the point of the exercise is looking at how JTA “can provide very nimble, agile transportation.”
Olli 2.0 is equipped with Robotic Research's AutoDrive Autonomy kit, which provides driver-warning, driver-assist and connected autonomous functionality in urban, mixed-traffic roadways as well as campus environments.
While a final vendor or model for the U2C project hasn’t been determined, JTA plans to roll out zero-emission autonomous people movers that will move on the existing elevated Skyway tracks down to Bay Street and other urban core areas.
The fully funded rollout of the first phase of the U2C program is a key part of the Bay Jax Innovation Corridor that is expected to bring transportation, energy and safety innovations together in a high-tech showcase that will run down Bay Street in Downtown Jacksonville.
JTA received a $12.5 million federal grant that will go toward funding the first Bay Street leg of the project. In addition, the city received $12.5 million to demolish the Hart ramps to help prepare the area for the BayJax Innovation Corridor and Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan’s proposed development of Lot J and the surrounding area into an entertainment complex and other uses.
Schmidt also said that within three months, JTA will also be ready to deploy its first ADA compliant paratransit van that’s retrofitted as an electric-zero-emission vehicle.
The EV Star will be arriving in Jacksonville next month for some tweaking before being deployed with an autonomous add-on kit. Although the van will be capable of some self-driving, it will have an attendent on board "at the wheel" at all times.