By Shawn Chitnis

GOLDEN, Colo. (CBS4) – The National Renewable Energy Label celebrated the start of an autonomous vehicle shuttle service Monday in Golden. The shuttle will transport NREL employees around campus, testing the technology and gaining feedback from riders as a way to research the energy-efficient transportation.

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“It’s really important because we really see a future where more electrified, autonomous vehicles will be on the scene,” said Johney Green Jr., associate laboratory director at NREL.

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NREL will use the EasyMile EZ10 autonomous shuttle, operated by MV Transportation, a partnership the trio has worked on for the past two years. As an electric vehicle that does not need a driver, the shuttle can not only be energy efficient but potentially provide a safer mode of transportation. The one shuttle on the campus will serve as an experiment; the companies involved will collect data on its performance and study the employees’ reaction to traveling in a vehicle without a driver.

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“It is definitely a combination of efficiency and safety, so hopefully the technology gets to a point where they’re safer than human drivers,” Green said.

The vehicle is already making decisions on its own but an employee is inside approving each decision before the shuttle moves, stops, and moves again or turns. Sensors on the vehicle alert it when someone or another object gets in its way. Green says not only is the layout of the campus a great space to test the shuttle, but the large staff will help provide a range of perspectives.

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“We’re really excited about having this cutting edge technology here on our campus and it’s a part of our sustainability initiative here at NREL,” he said.

While they already have high hopes for what the shuttle may do one day, their next hurdle is getting the vehicle to operate without the supervision of a human on board.

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“Kick back, read a book, read my email on my iPhone, just relax, take it easy,” Green said about the possibilities on the shuttle in the future. “Even take a nap as I’m going from where I am to wherever I need to be.”

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Shawn Chitnis