Representatives from Virginia Department of Transportation, George Mason University, Fairfax County and Dominion Energy pose before taking a ride on Olli, a level-four autonomous vehicle.

Olli has autonomous vehicles riding through people's minds

Oops, Olli does it again

Olli, a level-four autonomous vehicle, was the main attraction Tuesday at a demonstration on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall when several state organizations were interested in learning more about the pair of autonomous vehicles.

The two Ollis were in rotation as they took members of Dominion Energy, George Mason University and Fairfax County around JBM-HH. For many of them, it was their first time on Olli and they inquired about the sensors on Olli, emergency stops and the autonomous and manual mode of Olli.

George Mason University’s Sean Mallon, innovation and entrepreneurship, was in attendance. He discussed interest of cutting technology like Olli and human engagement. He said with technology like Olli, there is technology visibility, how people think of transportation and the underlying layer of technology.

Mallon said at GMU there are a network of shuttle buses that take students across campus or in between the school’s campuses.

“We spend money running on a traditional shuttle,” Mallon said. “Autonomous shuttle opportunities opens up opportunities to spend less money on something similar or more likely the same or more money for ubiquity of transportation. Instead of a bus every 15 minutes, a shuttle (can possibly run) every seven and a half minutes.”

He added that the question is, “how do you improve the experience of transportation for our students, faculty and other stakeholders?”

Dominion Energy’s Julie Manzari, innovation strategist, pointed out how Dominion is looking at autonomous vehicles for emission stability.

“A lot of the autonomous vehicles are also electric,” Manzari said. “We’re very interested in connected-autonomous electric vehicles and learn through partnerships and pilots for what the market will look like in the future to better serve our customers.

Dominion Energy recently started a partnership with Fairfax County. According to Manzari and Eta Nahapetian, economic initiatives coordinator with Fairfax County, they have an interest in an autonomous vehicle traveling from Dunn Loring to Moziac Business District of Fairfax County. Nahapetian said that the area has a speed limit of no more than 25 mph and it is a highly trafficked area.

“Our goals include determining the operational viability of an autonomous shuttle as a first- and last-mile mobility solution, promote and expand Fairfax as a place for research and as a leader and innovator in smart community initiatives, of which connected and autonomous vehicle deployments are one example,” Nahapetian said.

Being innovative is also Dominion’s goal.

“We recognize that over the last 10 years, we made efforts in making our electricity greener with renewable energy resources and focus on that emerging technology with electrical vehicle projects,” Manzari said.

Manzari also said the question is, “What will be the next step for autonomy?”

Virginia Department of Transportation’s Amy Tang McElwain, program manager for office of strategic innovation, and Amanda Hamm, connected and automated vehicles program manger were at the demonstration as well.

“It is our job for the effective and safe movement of people across the commonwealth,” Hamm said.

The duo said there is interest of having an autonomous vehicle on a public road and seeing how people react to Olli on public roads, intersections or how Olli would interact with vehicles infrastructure or signals.

“Once the vehicle goes off the base, we have different type of street markings, different size signings, different signals,” McElwain said. “How will Olli interact with those things?”

She said VDOT wants to test signal change for an autonomous vehicle, such as how it will react at a stoplight’s red, yellow or green lights.

The two said safety is a priority. McElwain said the speed of Olli on public roads is something to experiment and see. As well as the speed of other car’s speeds near Olli.

“It is hard to control other people and what they do, but I want to see what Olli is going to do, and how other people interact (with Olli’s speed),” she said.

Pentagram Staff Writer Katrina Wilson can be reached at