National Parks Service Shares Fresh Details on Forthcoming Self-Driving Shuttle Pilot

Shutterstock/Jake Eveler

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

Yellowstone National Park visitors can catch rides on the autonomous shuttles early next summer.

In its recently unveiled, first-ever autonomous vehicle pilot set to unfold at Yellowstone National Park in May, the National Park Service has an eye on the future—and its next generation of visitors, who will likely be tech-savvy and extremely online.

“The demographics and the visitor profiles that we’ll see in the future—right, we're going to have people who have grown up with the internet, people who have grown up with smartphones—and I think visitors are going to expect to have an enhanced technological experience in national parks,” NPS Alternative Transportation/Multimodal Program Lead Steve Suder told Nextgov.

During the fifth annual BOLD Gov event hosted by Nextgov and Government Executive Tuesday, Suder and NPS Alternative Transportation Program Manager Mike Madej shared new details about the pilot, agency personnel’s reactions to the proactive effort, and what its future looks like in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s super cool to think about an autonomous vehicle operating at Yellowstone this upcoming summer and we're excited that NPS is really taking this bold step and exploring what it takes for future transit and what things can look like,” Madej said. “And by this time next year, we should have strong findings for future opportunities.”

In October, NPS provided a glimpse into the forthcoming, public-engaging pilot, which will enable park visitors to ride around in self-moving shuttles moving on their own through Yellowstone’s Canyon Village area from late May through August 2021. Madej confirmed that though the vehicles will “be mostly operating autonomously,” a manual operator will also be onboard at all times. If needed, that human will be able to switch the robot into manual override “to ensure that the vehicle can safely navigate any unique situation that arises,” he said. 

After a great deal of consideration and conceptualization, NPS initially launched a request for proposals over the summer to identify potential partners for this work. And when the opportunity was announced internally, Madej said numerous parks expressed interest in potentially being the first to showcase the emerging technology. 

“But in the end, we found that based on the physical infrastructure—such as roads and maintenance, buildings, etc.—and the technical infrastructure, 4G availability, cell connectivity, and support from park leadership, that Yellowstone was the right place for us to host the AV shuttle pilot,” he explained.

Preserving America’s cultural and natural resources while also embracing a very forward-looking approach to transit presents an interesting juxtaposition for NPS and early on, Madej said those leading the movement “weren't sure where this was going to go—how people were going to respond to this in the parks.” But, they were quickly met with what he said was a great response from park workers on the ground.

Suder added that the agency’s senior leaders have also been enthused and engaged from the very beginning. 

“From our national leadership, it's been full speed ahead—and I think that support is also beyond just the department,” he said. “The federal government's been proactive in the last several years sort of getting organized and making sure that the government's not a hindrance to technology and innovation. And I think that that support is still there, and I think it'll continue in the future.”

Florida-based autonomous mobility-as-a-service provider Beep, Inc. was selected as the contractor for the project in September, and NPS officials anticipate the company will announce their selection of a shuttle vendor by mid-December. 

According to Madej, the pilot is ultimately aimed at helping NPS better understand how nascent, autonomous shuttle technologies can present new ways for park visitors to one day get around the agency’s heaps of parks and sites.

“The intent is for us to see how the AV technologies operate in a rural park setting, identify and overcome unforeseen regulatory barriers and explore ways to improve mobility options for visitors,” Madej said. “Even though riding the AV is open to the general public and it will be moving visitors around in the park, the purpose is not to address traffic congestion, or test transit sustainability with this pilot specifically—although we do intend to use data from the pilot to inform future transit planning.”

Suder added that the “future for autonomous vehicles and connected vehicles in the United States is absolutely coming,” and that for NPS and public lands in general, “it's not too early for us to start thinking about these things and start to consider and lay the foundations to be in a better spot for the future.”

It’s unclear if the novel coronavirus pandemic will subside by the pilot’s expected launch, but the officials confirmed it’s all proceeding with careful consideration and caution. 

“Right now, we're going to continue moving ahead with working with the pilot, as we have with many transit operations in the parks, in that our operators are going to be following all [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance, in terms of social distancing, ridership percentages, cleaning, and so on, and so forth,” Madej said. “Because the situation is so fluid, you know we're not really sure where it will land. But we plan to continue moving forward as is, and be flexible to adjust as needed, again, following all the CDC guidance to ensure safety of the public.”

“We're taking it very seriously. That’s the bottom line,” Suder added. “And I think we'll make the adjustments that are needed and follow any CDC—or even local health agency—views, as it goes forward.”

Brandi Vincent is a staff correspondent at Nextgov.

NEXT STORY: How to Fairly Use Algorithms to Make Tough Decisions

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.