New Flyer, Robotic Research to Improve Public Transit Using Autonomous Bus Technology

The 40-foot, zero-emission, battery-electric Xcelsior CHARGE™ heavy-duty transit buses. Photo: New Flyer.

St. Cloud, Minnesota, USA –New Flyer of America Inc., a subsidiary of NFI Group Inc., the largest bus manufacturer in North America, recently announced an exclusive partnership with Robotic Research, LLC to advance autonomous bus technology through developing and deploying advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) in heavy-duty transit bus applications. Last week, New Flyer had more big news as the company announced a new contract from New York’s Capital District Transportation Authority for four 40-foot, zero-emission, battery-electric Xcelsior CHARGE™ heavy-duty transit buses.

New Flyer invested more than two years assessing world-leading technology providers for sophisticated autonomous vehicle development. It ultimately selected Robotic Research based on the company’s proven, industry-leading, artificial intelligence-based technology, coupled with its extensive experience delivering successful Level 5 autonomous vehicle applications for customers within the defense and intelligence community, including the U.S. Department of Defense.

“New Flyer has a proud history of leading innovation, industry firsts, and technology advancement in public transportation,” said New Flyer President Chris Stoddart, in a press release “Our ADAS vision supports the mobility needs of all Americans relying on public transit for safe and reliable transportation every day. Partnering with Robotic Research furthers our commitment to utilize the best expertise and technology available, while reaffirming our responsibility to work with regulators and stakeholders on standards and test protocols that integrate automated vehicles safely into the existing transportation system.”

The partnership between New Flyer and Robotic Research will pursue development of an Xcelsior CHARGE battery-electric bus equipped with Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Standard J3016 Level 4 ADAS technology. SAE J3016 Level 4 is defined as high automation where the vehicle performs all driving tasks autonomously while actively monitoring the driving environment. The technology will be tested at Robotic Research facilities in late 2019, with closed course operation anticipated for 2020. To simulate realistic public transit applications, a trained onboard safety attendant will be utilized for evaluation and demonstration.

“We are extremely excited to be partnering with New Flyer to help usher in a new future for public transportation that offers greater safety for the public and reduced carbon emissions for our environment,” said Edward Mottern, Vice President of Robotic Research. “’New Flyer’s clear commitment to investing in both of these outcomes by harnessing the power of the latest technologies available, together with their leadership in public transportation, make them an outstanding partner of choice.”

Robotic Research is a privately held, U.S.-based innovative engineering and technology company providing software, robotic technology, and autonomous solutions to commercial and government customers. Its testing facilities are located in Gaithersburg and Clarksburg, Maryland.

“Over the past 24 months of working together, we have witnessed that New Flyer’s engineering processes, values and validation approach to technology is strongly aligned for a successful outcome,” added Mottern. “From the onset, both companies agreed safety and workforce training considerations would guide our collaborative development approach. The team is looking forwards to demonstrating the technology in a multitude of pilot programs being funded around the US and other countries.”

New Flyer’s significant investment in ADAS technology builds on a history marked with advancements transit innovation. In 2017, New Flyer opened its Vehicle Innovation Center, described as the first and only innovation lab of its kind in North America dedicated to the advancement of bus and coach technology.

With the announcement of its Robotic Research partnership, New Flyer further supports the Federal Transit Administration Strategic Transit Automation Research Plan to assess potential risks, barriers and mitigation strategies associated with the implementation of automation technologies in transit buses. This plan also adopts SAE J3016 levels and definitions.

In March 2019, New Flyer was invited by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao to participate alongside transportation industry leaders in critical discussions regarding automation adoption and workforce development, in coordination with the U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Commerce, and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The latest announcement supports CDTA’s sustainable mission to improve accessibility and mobility, reduce the region’s carbon footprint, and promote environmentally-sound business practices to benefit the surrounding community.

“CDTA is proud to be the first transit agency in upstate New York to implement battery-electric bus technology,” said Carm Basile, Chief Executive Officer, CDTA. “The purchase of New Flyer’s Xcelsior CHARGE buses will help to further reduce CDTA’s environmental impact, and we look forward to integrating and testing the new technology as we pursue zero-emission transit in our communities.”

CDTA provides multimodal transport in the Capital District of New York (including the counties of Albany, Rensselaer, Saratoga, and Schenectady), and delivers more than 16 million passenger trips per year for a community of almost 800,000 people. In 2017, the American Public Transportation Association awarded CDTA Mid-Sized Transit System of the Year.