National Park Service Officials Mark Milestone for Launch of Self-Driving Shuttle

by Gwen Newell

The National Park Service along with NCDOT recently announced the launch of the first self-driving vehicle to be tested at a recreational public lands site in the nation.

Fittingly, the Connected Autonomous Shuttle Supporting Innovation, also known as CASSI, was launched at the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills – the site of the world’s first powered flight.

The CASSI will help the National Park Service and NCDOT learn more about how driverless vehicles can be safely and effectively used in the future. The CASSI will be tested at the Wright Brothers National Memorial for three months.

Autonomous vehicles use cutting-edge technology to operate without a driver. However, as part of this pilot, a trained customer service operator will ride in the vehicle to ensure the safety of passengers. The operator will monitor conditions and be able to manually stop the vehicle at any time.

The vehicle will navigate its route using remote sensing laser technology called LiDAR and GPS used to map and then monitor a fixed route. Sensors continuously scan the shuttle’s surroundings and signal for it to stop when an obstacle is too close. The NCDOT is working with TransLoc to provide real-time tracking software and a map to keep riders updated on CASSI’s location on the NCDOT website.

During the pilot, information will be collected about things such as the number of passengers, trips and the vehicle’s battery usage. NCDOT and NPS will use the data to better understand how autonomous vehicles perform in different settings.

From now through July 16, the vehicle will take passengers from the Wright Brothers National Memorial museum to the First Flight bronze sculpture and back. Rides are free and the number of passengers is limited due to the size of the vehicle and space limitations due to COVID-19. Passengers will be asked to abide by all safety protocols during rides, including wearing a mask and physical distancing. The vehicle operates at speeds between 8 mph and 12 mph.

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