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July 29, 2021

Optimus Ride and Partners Awarded DOE Grant for Large AV Fleet and Research

Optimus Ride, Clemson University, UC Berkeley, and Argonne National Labs selected for a DOE grant of up to $4.3 million to deploy one of the largest autonomous fleets in the US and conduct critical AV research

Optimus Ride is proud to partner with Clemson University, University of California, Berkeley, and Argonne National Laboratory to provide modern, practical mobility services for students, faculty, staff, and visitors at Clemson University and conduct cutting-edge research on the interplay of sustainability, rider behavior, and autonomous vehicles (AV). The Department of Energy (DOE) grant, of up to $4.3 million, will allow for one of the largest deployments of autonomous shuttles in the US over a three year period. In support of the Biden-Harris Administration's goal of a net-zero emissions economy by 2050, this deployment is part of the DOE’s $60 million effort to fund 24 research and development projects that are decarbonizing the transportation sector and reducing CO2 emissions from passenger cars and light- and heavy-duty trucks. Optimus Ride is the sole AV company selected by the DOE to unite national energy initiatives, academic research, and measured advancement of AV technology.

Opportunity for cutting-edge analysis and exploration

Up to 10 Optimus Ride shuttles will be deployed at Clemson University with the goal of studying a number of different research areas related to sustainability and low-speed, electric AVs.  These include analyzing rider behavior and adoption and examining the potential sustainability impact autonomous vehicles can have when deployed on a single campus and at scale. Optimus Ride will also analyze its routes, vehicle performance, sustainability benchmarks, and other data to continue to refine its shuttle service and further advance its autonomous vehicle technology.

Specifically, Clemson University and Argonne National Laboratory will focus on the measurement and verification of energy and sustainability benefits, representing one of the first large-scale, real world efforts of this kind. The researchers at UC Berkeley will concentrate on behavioral change and transportation mode shifting by riders to support a better understanding of how to encourage drivers into alternative and more environmentally friendly forms of transportation.  Additionally, Clemson University will explore how to optimize autonomous vehicle operations for increased efficiency.

The ideal environment for AV mobility and research

College campuses represent a unique opportunity to deploy and study AV technologies given the constrained geography and unique transportation needs. They provide real world test environments, not just test tracks, to collect usable data and further prove out the sustainability, efficiency, and economic value of AV technology.  Clemson University is an ideal campus, not only because of its long history of automotive research as represented by the International Center for Automotive Research, but also because it hosts over 25,000 students on a 1,400 acre campus and has significant transportation needs. 

“College campuses such as Clemson are ideal environments to significantly further AV research and adoption while providing a new and convenient transportation option to students and faculty alike,'' said Karim Al-Khafaji, Head of Business Development at Optimus Ride and Principal Investigator for this project. “We are excited to be at the forefront of validating the environmental and community benefits of autonomous shuttles, in partnership with leading research and transportation teams at Clemson, Berkeley, and Argonne National Labs, and to extend the learnings to campuses and communities nationwide.”

Campus transportation teams across the US strive to ensure students, employees, and visitors have safe, convenient modes of transit available to connect them within and around campus. At the same time, campus transportation teams face reduced budgets and increasing campus sustainability and efficiency goals. Shared, electric, autonomous shuttles are the ideal solution to meet current mobility needs, contribute to sustainability goals, and align with the forward-thinking ethos of academic institutions. This deployment allows for meaningful rides to be delivered, while conducting valuable research.

Uniting cross-functional areas of research and expertise

This project unites a team of established and respected experts across the academic research, transportation, and AV space.

Optimus Ride is uniquely positioned to provide the autonomous shuttles and service for this project, given our end-to-end mobility solution covering the provisioning of the fleet, our fully-integrated AV tech stack, a holistic rider experience, and full service operations and support.  We’ll do what we do best, and provide convenient, fun, safe, and sustainable rides for the Clemson community in our shared, electric, autonomous shuttles. 

The researchers from Clemson University, led by Dr. Ardalan Vahidi and Dr. Yunyi Jia, will conduct measurement and verification of the energy benefits of electric autonomous shuttles leveraging historical baseline energy consumption and emissions data from Clemson’s traditional shuttles. The team will also study additional sustainability gains to be derived from AV technology’s routing, dispatch, and driving optimization. Argonne National Laboratory will model the sustainability and efficiency potential of AVs at scale, informed by the results from the Clemson campus research.

“I am excited to see the long term impact of Optimus Ride’s autonomous, electric shuttles on campus energy use, transportation choices, and parking behavior. What we learn can easily translate to other university campuses and energy savings can scale up in larger metropolitan areas. Instead of stressing about parking at peak hours, wasting time and energy, and perhaps missing a lecture, students, faculty, and staff can enjoy hassle free parking at satellite parking lots thanks to the autonomous shuttles that show up predictably and frequently to chauffeur them around campus. Many will choose to use the new system instead of driving their cars, to reduce their transportation carbon footprint.” - Dr. Ardalan Vahidi, Leader in Transportation Sustainability Research at Clemson University

The behavioral research element will be led by Dr. Susan Shaheen, Director of Innovative Mobility Research at UC Berkeley and a thought leader in mobility strategies. 

"The Transportation Sustainability Research Center is excited to partner with Clemson University and Optimus Ride to understand the potential benefits of autonomous shuttles in a campus environment. This project provides a unique opportunity to study the role of user incentives and multiple use cases, and their impacts on behavior change." - Dr. Susan Shaheen, Director of Innovative Mobility Research at UC Berkeley

And critically, as this is a genuine transportation offering for the employees, students, and visitors of Clemson University, members of Clemson University Parking and Transportation Services will round out the team ensuring reliable transportation services are provided while focusing on minimizing system level energy use and enhancing safety. 

This grant validates our unique approach to meeting critical mobility needs of today while advancing AV technology. We’re focused on delivering impactful rides that connect people and communities and creating environmental and operational efficiencies. We cannot wait to get started researching, measuring, and verifying the true impact of electric, autonomous shuttle services and look forward to sharing the results! 

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