Student hit by autonomous shuttle during demonstration

By Leda Alvim, Staff Writer
On February 27, 2019

The student who was hit by the shuttle has complaints of persisting ankle pain. ORACLE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM

A USF student injured her left ankle after a driverless shuttle struck her from behind.

This occurred during demonstrations by Autonomous Coast and USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) on Feb. 15.

The purpose of the demonstration was to gauge interest in making the autonomous shuttles a permanent addition to campus, Pei-Sung Lin, the traffic operations and safety program director for CUTR, told The Oracle in an interview earlier this month.

The student, who prefers to remain anonymous, stated that the accident happened when she was walking to Campus Recreation Center, in front of Cooper Hall. She was struck from behind by the autonomous shuttle and fell to the ground.

As a result, she said she twisted her ankle, her hands and knees got hurt and bruised and her head was aching throughout the day.

“The shuttle successfully provided over 500 autonomous rides during the week in an area densely populated with skateboarders, bicyclists and pedestrians,” President of Coast Autonomous Adrian Sussmann said. “This was an unfortunate event that happened under manual operation at less than 5 mph and we will evaluate training protocols and make any appropriate adjustments.”

The offense report from the University Police Department states that the driver from Autonomous Coast switched over to manual mode when he noticed that the student was getting too close. The shuttle was driving with a speed of 5 mph when it hit the student.

After the student was hit and fell to the ground, the shuttle stopped immediately.

Sussmann said that the accident would not have happened under the autonomous mode due to its sensors — which identify when people get too close to the shuttle.

The people that witnessed the accident called 911 and an ambulance to check on the student. She was later taken to the hospital to do x-rays and verify the severity of the injury. She does not have the total cost of the hospital bill.

Two weeks after the accident, the student said that her ankle still hurts making it hard to walk when going to class or work. As a result, the student missed three classes due to her injury.

“When I went to the hospital, they told me that I wouldn’t be able to walk for several days and that my feet would continue to hurt for weeks,” the student said.

According to the student, neither Autonomous Coast nor CUTR has contacted her yet. She said they did offer to take her to the on-campus clinic but it does not offer x-rays.

“It’s been two weeks and nobody reached out to me,” the student said. “I feel like they just want to cover it because I think this is a major thing for USF, especially when bringing new technology to campus.

“I feel that they just want to pretend like it didn’t happen.”

The student is considering pursuing legal action if neither parties offer financial assistance to help her with the costs of medical treatment.

In an official statement, CUTR said, “We are aware of this unfortunate situation. Our thoughts are with the student involved. The shuttle was operated solely by the vendor, COAST, who is in the best position to answer any questions.”

Sussmann added that having an operator on every shuttle is not something that would exist down the line, should they become a permanent addition to campus.

“There’s a safety operator on board that often changes to manual in order to test the mode in case any threat to safety happens,” Sussmann said. “The whole purpose of the project is that you want to get into a point where there are no operators on board at all controlling the shuttle, but until then we want to guarantee the safety of everyone. This was just an unfortunate event that happened when the shuttle was on manual mode.”

According to the student, her insurance is currently covering the hospital costs, but she hopes that either Autonomous Coast, the company responsible for creating the shuttles, or CUTR will offer financial support to pay all the bills caused by the incident.

“I feel very frustrated about this whole situation,” the student said. “I shouldn’t be exposed to this type of danger on campus especially when walking on the sidewalk.”

After the accident, the student has reservations about making these shuttles a part of campus life.

“After what happened to me, I don’t agree that this shuttle should become a permanent addition to USF,” the student said. “It can be a danger to many students walking especially since there’s no driver controlling the shuttle. This shouldn’t have happened.”

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