“Find a repetitive job and then automate it,” is Ryan Popple’s pragmatic view of the integration of automation into the mobility space. In the above video, Popple, president, and CEO of electric bus manufacturer, Proterra, Inc., explains that one example of this sort of incremental automation is the mechanism they developed to precisely align their buses with electric chargers.
He expresses caution regarding the implementation of autonomy that removes the driver from a bus. He emphasizes the importance of collecting data and testing in real-world conditions, prior to implementing automation. He states that Proterra has been gathering various data during the past year with real bus routes. He discusses Proterra’s work with University of Nevada Reno to gather data via the fusion of multiple sensors, such as GPS, Lidar, and video, and the analysis of that data.
Automation Opportunities #
As he points out, this treasure trove of data provides a foundation for scenario and simulation testing. Further, the data is relatively high-quality, as the bus drivers’ driving skills are above average compared to the general population. Popple points out that, because bus routes are predictable, buses will probably be easier to automate as compared to personal vehicles.
He also discusses how automation offers the potential to change the vehicle form factor. For instance, he envisions the potential for lead and chase vehicles, creating virtual mini-bus trains (as opposed to longer articulating buses). This type of approach allows right-sizing the vehicle to meet demand. He sees trains, such as Caltrain, that connect San Francisco to San Jose, continuing to be part of the long-term mix for a complete transportation system.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to follow up on a brief conversation we had at ProspectSV’s 2016 Charge and Connect event, where we discussed the idea that electric buses are a more cost-effective solution than light rail. Another unasked question in the above interview is the practicality of putting an electric bus on train tracks, reducing the cost of electrification, as well as allowing for smaller-size, self-powered, and, potentially, autonomous train cars that could provide needed frequency during off-peak times. Alas, those questions will have to be for a future interview.
To see the first half of the above interview, click on the link below.
Congratulations to Proterra for its impending purchase order from the city of San Jose for ten electric buses at approximately $760,000 each for Mineta San Jose International Airport. This bid beat out BYD Coach & Bus, LLC, which had priced their offering at approximately $970k per bus. According to Mayor Licarrdo at the 11/7 council meeting, about 50% of the purchase amount will come from a FAA grant and the expected operational savings is estimated at approximately $4 million over the 12-year anticipated life of the buses.
Although this author has been a member of the City of San Jose Airport Commission, which is an advisory body to the council and airport staff, since July 1st, 2017, this interview was filmed prior to his initial commission meeting. At that meeting, airport staff briefed the commission on their recommendation of Proterra. Additionally, to be clear, there was no remuneration to this author or Viodi for filming the above video.