Self-driving vehicle demonstrations planned in Madison

Two self-driving shuttle demonstrations are planned for Madison next week, while several groups meet to discuss efforts to test and develop autonomous vehicles.

UW-Madison is hosting an autonomous shuttle made by French manufacturer Navya on campus — part of the federally designated Wisconsin Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds. Anyone who shows up between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Tuesday and Wednesday can get a ride in the vehicle, which will drive a short circuit on campus roads.

The shuttle analyzes its environment using lidar — a remote sensing method which relies on pulses of laser light.

“A big part of our work as the proving grounds, especially as a more public-based, university-based proving grounds compared to the private test tracks, is getting people comfortable with this new technology that’s coming very, very fast — whether agencies or regulators are ready for it or not,” said Peter Rafferty, a program manager at the college’s Traffic Operations and Safety Laboratory and one of the leaders of the WiscAV effort.

Researchers at the TOPS Lab have a partnership with the city of Madison to test connected vehicles on Park Street, a busy road that cuts into the UW-Madison campus. The lab also has a full-scale driving simulator for testing.

Other UW-Madison engineers are working in this area by focusing on safety features and potential impacts on other segments of the economy. For example, some are looking at agricultural applications and the role of artificial intelligence, public perception and urban planning.

John Lee, a professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, is studying human interaction with self-driving vehicles.

“Autonomous and connected vehicles are going to transform society,” says Jon Riehl, TOPS researcher. “So our work here is a perfect example of the Wisconsin Idea in action.”

The demo comes just a few weeks after a self-driving Uber vehicle hit and killed a woman crossing the street in Arizona.

That and other incidents have raised questions about the safety of these vehicles. Specialists insist roads will be safer without human drivers, but the systems and technologies aren’t developed enough yet to operate without human oversight.

“It’s critical that the experience is safe for users, which is part of the reason this research is so important,” said Nyra Jordan, director of corporate responsibility and sustainability for American Family Insurance, one of the sponsors for the event. “This technology will enhance the future of mobility and reduce the environmental impacts associated with transportation.”

Also next week, the Governor’s Steering Committee on Autonomous and Connected Vehicle Testing and Deployment will meet Wednesday in the state Capitol. These meetings are always open to the public.

After the committee meeting, the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources will hold a discussion event featuring an overview of the topic from one of the engineers involved with the WiscAV effort.

And coming up in early May, another discussion on self-driving vehicles will be held in Waukesha by Godfrey & Kahn. Speakers at that event include representatives of Baird, American Family Insurance, Mandli Communications and others.

See the steering committee’s meetings page:

See a flyer for the GWAAR discussion:

See event details for the Godfrey & Kahn discussion:

See more on the shuttle demo:

–By Alex Moe