OlliAutonomous vehicles like this one will shuttle students at Sac State as part of an innovative program the University entered into with Sacramento Area Council of Governments. (Sacramento State/Jessica Vernone

The future of mass transportation includes an autonomous glass-topped “toaster” on wheels called Olli, which Sacramento State rolls out Thursday, Feb. 21.

Following a 1 p.m. press conference, attended by such dignitaries as Congresswoman Doris Matsui and University President Robert S. Nelsen, Olli will be available for photo ops and ride-alongs from 1:30 to 4 p.m. And then Olli will be operational on campus.

Moraga Way, a paved pathway between Amador Hall and Bay Laurel Way, will serve as the test track for two eight-passenger, driverless shuttles on loan from Arizona-based Local Motors.

Sac State won the use of the electric Olli shuttles – the world’s first 3D-printed, co-created autonomous vehicles – by besting other entries in Local Motors’ first-ever Olli Fleet Challenge, which concluded in September. The company, known for its creative mobility solutions, invited municipalities, campuses, and designated districts to propose a short-term, local use for Olli.

The University partnered with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) to secure the win. SACOG is paying Sac State's cost of $88,000 to implement the project on campus. 

The program is scheduled to run for three months during the Spring semester.

“Sacramento State continues to be an institutional leader in our region, embracing new technology and finding unique ways to engage with their students,” said Congresswoman Doris Matsui, who served as a challenge judge. “Having been chosen as the winner of the Olli Fleet Challenge, Sacramento State will have the opportunity to provide faculty and students first-hand experience with the future of mobility while utilizing their safe, private, internal campus route.  

Tony Lucas, senior director of Sac State's traffic and parking services, displays proof of the University's victory in the Olli Fleet Challenge. (Sacramento State/Bill DeGraffenreid)

“I look forward to the testing of these autonomous shuttles and experimenting with the possibilities that this technology presents us with.”

A variety of students from the College of Engineering & Computer Science, including Civil Engineering students in Professor Ghazan Khan’s transportation engineering classes, will use the Olli shuttles as a classroom on wheels.

“This is going to provide an opportunity to study the application of autonomous vehicles up close, and conduct surveys of users on public opinion towards autonomous vehicle use and technology,” Khan said. “I intend to introduce a new mini-project for students to collect data.”

Olli is driverless, but trained student ambassadors will be on board to reassure passengers of the vehicle’s safety.

The Olli pilot program fits with sustainability-minded Sac State, which has a goal of achieving full carbon neutrality by 2040, five years ahead of California’s deadline set by Gov. Jerry Brown.

Sac State Sustainability is leading the University’s “greening” efforts with such projects as campus recycling headquartered at the BAC Yard and the groundbreaking Living Building Challenge, a program of the International Living Future Institute

The Olli shuttles will join Sac State’s new electric Herky Streetcar on the Moraga Way route, offering students and members of the greater Sacramento community a chance to experience the innovative technology firsthand.

“We are excited to see these shuttles deployed at Sac State,” said Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg, another challenge judge. “Here in Sacramento, we are creating a testing ground for autonomous, electric, and shared-vehicle technologies.

“Having the next generation of innovators experience them and test them first-hand creates a pathway, not just to a sustainable future for our environment, but for our economy and the next generation of jobs.”

Sac State’s road to winning the Olli Fleet Challenge began when Tony Lucas, senior director of University Transportation & Parking Services (UTAPS), earlier this year participated in SACOG’s Civic Labs. His goal was to develop transportation solutions for mobility problems, he said.

Lucas and Sac State’s SACOG partners entered the project in the Local Motors’ challenge, and won.

“We at SACOG are proud of the winning efforts of the team at Sacramento State and look forward to seeing the Olli fleet in action on their campus,” said executive director James Corless. “Their success was forged in our Civic Lab incubator project, which helps public agencies look for innovative solutions to local and regional challenges through new and disruptive technologies.

"An Olli fleet pilot project is a great outcome for Sacramento State and will help showcase the technologies to tackle the transportation challenges of the future.” – Dixie Reid