Look mom, no driver!

Goldenites got a glimpse of the future on Aug. 10 and it likely looked a little funny.

That’s because it took the form of several white, toaster-resembling vehicles that will be making the rounds on campus and around downtown Golden for the next year at the speed of 12 miles an hour.

The shuttles, which the school has christened Mines Rovers and are intended to transport students as well as the public around campus and to downtown Golden, are part of what the school says will be the largest fleet of low-speed, driverless shuttles in the nation.

“Today, here at the School of Mines…, we will write a new chapter in the world transportation history books at a time when we need a new chapter desperately,” said Tyler Svitak, the executive director of the Colorado Smart Cities Alliance that is helping to bring the vehicles to Golden and, eventually, Greenwood Village and Colorado Springs.

The shuttles began service after the ribbon-cutting and will travel three set routes from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday with shuttles arriving at designated stops every five to 10 minutes.

The shuttles are guided by lasers and a digital map and were built by the Denver-based company EasyMile. They contain seats for six passengers, plus an operator who is trained to take over control of the vehicle in what both Mines and EasyMile say is the unlikely event that anything goes wrong with the vehicles.

Those operator positions will be staffed by lucky Mines students who may now be able to claim they have some of the coolest jobs on campus.

“It’s a fun experience,” said Mines junior Sam Newman, who said he was looking forward to being on board the shuttles with fellow students for the first time. “I was reading the description and it just sounded really cool so I was like I’m going to apply because that sounds fun.”

The unveiling took place under skies heavy with smoke from wildfires in other Western states that provided a fitting — if grim — backdrop for the festivities.

“The air quality is very much due in part to the impacts of climate change and the emissions coming from our vehicle tailpipe,” said Svitak. “The shuttles that you see here are 100% electric and produce zero tailpipe emissions.”

Mines President Paul C. Johnson said it only made sense for such a futuristic technology to be deployed at Mines given the school’s technological prowess.

However, he also joked that Mines alums have been responding to the addition of the vehicles by claiming that Mines is making life too easy for its students by bringing in shuttles to bring them to locations where they used to had to walk.

Congressman Ed Perlmutter later referenced that joke in his comments when he said that he is hopeful that seeing the shuttles will inspire students to continue creating new solutions for climate change and other problems.

“I want you to know it’s not getting easier, we have a lot of problems that need to be solved and it’s the students and alumni who graduate from this place who answer so many of the problems we’ve got to solve,” he said.

He then added that the shuttle is one of those answers and he has high hopes for its future.

“I look forward to it becoming commonplace throughout Colorado,” he said.

Content originally published by the Golden Transcript on August 20, 2021.

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