Island University Debuts First of its Kind Autonomous Shuttle

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi kicked off the first day of the spring 2020 semester with the highly anticipated unveiling of “SURGE,” the only autonomous vehicle in Corpus Christi used for public transportation. The new shuttle is the latest innovative addition to the Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority’s (CCRTA) fleet and runs exclusively on the Island campus. During the Jan. 21 public unveiling, students, faculty, and staff were invited to ride the entire SURGE route, which covers a 30-minute loop on the residential side of campus.

“It’s a pretty big honor that this kind of technology is going to be tested here,” said Travis Chudej, geology major. “This service will only add to our University’s reputation and bring a little more to the unique campus we already have.”

The new on-campus transportation option will help alleviate traffic and parking stress, while also reducing the University’s collective carbon footprint. SURGE, manufactured by a driverless technology company EasyMile, is the first EZ 10 generation III model to operate in North America. The shuttle features innovative technology allowing it to operate on a complex route and connects to the public transportation system, including the CCRTA’s new FLEX Service.

“We are excited to partner with CCRTA on this project that will enhance campus life and show how innovative research turns into usable technology,” said Dr. Kelly M. Miller, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi President. “Adding this new shuttle to our campus takes our autonomous ecosystem – air, water, and land – to a whole new level.”

While helping to ease travel woes on an ever-growing campus, the shuttle also brings forth opportunity for research in multiple disciplines, while also solidifying the University as a test-ground for the latest in innovation and technology.

Earlier in January, A&M-Corpus Christi and CCRTA hosted an additional preview event for local, regional, and state lawmakers, along with stakeholders. One of those in attendance was Lisa Jerram, Director of Bus Programs and Emerging Vehicle Technologies of the American Public Transportation Association in Washington, D.C.

“Public transit has at its core mission as serving everyone and not the few, so it’s exciting to see a program like this, to see this technology in this environment where many people will be able to experience it,” said Jerram.

The SURGE shuttle can hold up to twelve riders, has a built-in access ramp for those with disabilities and can detect and avoid potential obstacles thanks to a full set of sensors, lidars, cameras, GPS, odometry and an inertial measurement unit. While it serves as an autonomous vehicle, a CCRTA Safety Ambassador will always be present onboard as a safety precaution. SURGE can also operate manually, if necessary.  

The autonomous shuttle will operate fare-free, and be available from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.