colorful bus

Updated June 18, 2023: The start of the campus shuttle service announced on June 15 has been temporarily delayed. The new start date will be announced soon.

Original story:

A pilot project between the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Engineering and the Hawaiʻi Department of Transportation (HDOT) will launch the State of Hawaiʻi’s first autonomous electric “Min-E Bus” on the Mānoa campus starting June 2023. This HDOT test project is the first under Hawaiʻi’s Autonomous Vehicle Testing law passed in 2020 and will help the state meet its goal of achieving 100% clean energy by 2045 as HDOT transitions to electric vehicles.

UH Mānoa’s College of Engineering is a partner in the project, responsible for collecting and analyzing data for HDOT as it begins to add autonomous and electric vehicles to its fleet.

“This is a milestone for the Department of Transportation and the state,” said HDOT Director Ed Sniffen. “We are doing our part to meet the state’s sustainability goals and make our roads safer. As autonomous vehicles become more widely used, the rate and severity of car accidents is expected to drop, and that will save lives.”

The air-conditioned, 14-passenger, AV Star All-Electric Autonomous Min-E Bus features state-of-art technology Perrone Robotics TONY (To Navigate to You) autonomous system and meets all Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. It is also able to serve passengers in wheelchairs and as a precautionary measure, human drivers will be seated at the wheel and able to take control, if needed.

The HDOT Min-E Bus will provide autonomous shuttle service to UH Mānoa’s upper and lower campus over the summer in the first phase of the project. Phase 2, expected to begin in the fall, will expand the service to the Kauʻiokahaloa Nui Apartments faculty housing complex near the Mānoa Marketplace.

“This pilot autonomous shuttle bus project will provide first-hand experience right here in Hawaiʻi and help us collect invaluable data that will help in our understanding of what the future of transportation and mobility will look like,” said College of Engineering Dean Brennon Morioka. “It will help the state better prepare for the necessary changes in infrastructure as well as policies to accommodate large-scale autonomous vehicle deployments in Hawaiʻi. We are very proud of the role that UH’s College of Engineering is playing in this initiative that HDOT is leading.”

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Guohui Zhang added, “This project will provide our students with an invaluable research opportunity to use what they have learned in the classroom to serve our state and community. In addition to better understanding the innovative, state-of-the-art autonomous driving technologies, we will emphasize vehicle-infrastructure interoperability and community-wide travel connectivity in this project. Our students will use this autonomous bus platform to advance their research horizons in Artificial Intelligence (AI)-empowered traffic mobility and safety enhancement, as well as traffic digital twin modeling and formulation.”

The project is a natural fit with UH, which has set a goal for the 10-campus system of zero carbon emissions by 2035. Compared to a comparable gas-powered passenger vehicle, the HDOT Min-E Bus is estimated to save more than 660 gallons of gas per year ($3,133 savings/year if cost of fuel is $4.60/gallon) and decrease carbon dioxide by 13,021 pounds/year.

Autonomous shuttle information

The autonomous shuttle is for UH Mānoa students, faculty, staff and affiliates. The Phase 1 route for the HDOT Min-E Bus will run every 30 minutes from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. starting from the Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies. The route with 11 stops will take it through student housing, down East West Road and Maile Way, to the Queen Liliʻuokalani Center for Student Services (QLC), and back to the Kamakakūokalani Center.

There are 11 stops along the route in the following order:

  • Kamakakūokalani Center
  • Frear Hall
  • Hale Noelani
  • Hale Wainani
  • Burns Hall
  • Jefferson Hall
  • St. John
  • Varney Circle
  • Paradise Palms
  • Kennedy Theatre
  • Gateway House on Dole Street

The route for a second phase is planned to run from the UH Mānoa campus to the Kauʻiokahaloa Nui Apartments faculty housing located near the Mānoa Marketplace.

Other UH Mānoa units involved in the UH phases of the project include Commuter Services, Student Housing Services and Campus Operations and Facilities and the Office of Risk Management.