Autonomous bus CASSI operates longest route yet at UNC Charlotte

The CASSI bus pilot program is making stops across North Carolina gathering data to improve the fully-autonomous passenger vehicle.
The CASSI bus pilot program is making stops across North Carolina gathering data to improve the fully-autonomous 9-passenger vehicle.
Published: Sep. 7, 2023 at 3:30 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 7, 2023 at 3:31 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - The North Carolina Department of Transportation’s fully autonomous bus CASSI is spending six months at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte’s campus for a pilot program.

“Ultimately, we want to see, can this be mainstreamed? Can this be something that we’re able to support long-term again, ultimately, to get folks where they need to go? Especially those who choose not to own a car, can’t afford a car, who would like to have an option to not drive themselves?” Sarah Searcy, a senior advisor with the NCDOT’s integrated mobility division, said.

UNC Charlotte’s engineering students are taking part in the research needed to improve the pilot and further NCDOT’s research.

“This is just another step for them and we’re really happy to team up with NCDOT and our friends at CDOT have helped us tremendously to provide literally a live learning lab for our research group right here on campus, which is really cool,” UNC Charlotte Business Services Associate Vice Chancellor Doug Lape said.

The eight-passenger shuttle also has an operator on it while the pilot phase continues.

“She goes a maximum of 12 miles an hour. So we’re not breaking any land speed records with this thing. But again, it’s all in the name of safety and make sure that everyone’s safe and that it operates in a safe manner,” Lape said.

CASSI also has limitations when it comes to the weather.

“When it rains, it throws the LIDAR off because it refracts off of the rain so she cannot run in the rain,” Lape explained. “She is a sunny weather type of girl! So, but that’s good here in the Carolinas because we have a lot of those days.”

At UNC Charlotte, CASSI is helping students move from one part of campus to another inside the air-conditioned shuttle.

“It’s supplementing a route that we already have. So it runs the Greek Village route. And it just adds to the service that we provide now,” Lape said. “I think they’re curious, you know. They’re like, ‘What is that thing?’ And then they get on and then they just love it.”

The university is not CASSI’s first stop. The vehicle has had other pilot programs around the state but the stint at UNC Charlotte is by far the longest program and longest route CASSI has taken.

CASSI operates Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m.

Individuals do not have to be a student to go for a ride on CASSI. UNC Charlotte invites the community to catch her at the Popp-Martin Student Union bus stop. To track CASSI’s location, visit her transit tracker.

To read more about CASSI and NCDOT’s pilot program, visit their website.