Center News /
October 7, 2022

ISA-TOPE Updates

Stay up to date by reading our monthly updates on our Innovative, Semi-Autonomous Trucks and Off-highway Powered Equipment (ISA-TOPE) National Science Foundation grant.



The curriculum created during the ISA-TOPE grant has been converted for use with the D2L Learning Management System utilized by Minnesota State Colleges and University programs. This training provided additional activities that could be incorporated into outreach activities.



On December 12, the Intra-Agency Agreement with Alexandria Technical and Community College was completed and executed, and work can begin on taking the created curriculum and allowing it to all be used on the D2L LMS used within Minnesota State.  Work will likely begin in January and will be completed prior to the end of the grant period.

The curriculum created during the ISA-TOPE grant is being disseminated to ATE Connects, the repository for materials created during NSF ATE projects.  This curriculum is also available via a Teams Site and can be given out upon request from schools interested in reviewing or using the materials.  The resources are also being converted for easy use on the D2L platform.


On November 3, PI Borleis presented autonomous vehicle training to the Truck Driving Students at Riverland Community College in Albert Lea, MN.  There were 16 in attendance and following the in-class portion of the training, students were given the opportunity to drive the ISA-TOPE truck/trailer and experience some of the autonomous technologies firsthand.  There were many questions and great dialogue in both the classroom and on-the-road sessions.


PI Borleis and co-PI Mohn were two of the approximately 700 attendees at the NSF PI Conference in Washington DC from October 25-27.  Shannon and Carl attended multiple sessions, listened to multiple keynote speakers, networked with several people related to autonomous technologies, electric vehicles, and CTE.  Co-PI Mohn, presented about his NSF ATE grant at MState, presenting as the PI for that project, along with members from the Riverland NSF ATE grant, and the connection those two projects have had to develop synergies in the training of students in advanced vehicle technologies.  One resource that PI Borleis plans to implement into his grant and regular day-to-day work is an industry partner measurement device presented at one of the sessions on Thursday of the Conference.


On 9/8/2023, the ISA-TOPE truck and trailer visited the Truck Driving Program at Alexandria Technical and Community College.  Carl Borleis and Lew Olivier presented on the autonomous technology in the truck and other technology the 20 attending students may experience on the truck they drive once employed and had discussions around the future of autonomous trucks and employment implications to their careers.  After the in-class presentation, students were allowed to explore the ISA-TOPE truck outside and see the technology first-hand.

On 9/11/2023, the ISA-TOPE truck and trailer were used to help the newest member of the TCOE team, Llewellen “Lew” Olivier, get his Class A CDL.  He needed the CDL to use the ISA-TOPE truck/trailer, and the TOCE Career Exploration Trailer, both of which are part of the “Can I Borrow That?” program at the TCOE.


August was an eventful month for ISA-TOPE:


The ISA-TOPE equipment was used at the Midwest Teachers of Transportation and Industrial Areas (MTTIA) annual training conference.  Additional vendors also presented about various new and upcoming technologies on their trucks and heavy equipment.

ISA-TOPE equipment was used at the following MTTIA sessions:

Ziegler Inc. 2 – Grade Control; Presented by Roger Gartner
Overview of 2D using Cat skid steer from the Minnesota State Transportation Center of Excellence and training on 3D grade control.

Noregon – JPRO Software Deep Dive; Presented by: Bill Alday and Ali Kirsten-Noregon
A closer look at JPRO Diagnostic Features. For those already familiar with the basics of the software, we’ll be taking a deeper dive into some features within the program and how they can be used in different ways in the classroom.

Vendors giving instruction on their brand-specific autonomous technologies:

Allstate Peterbilt – Satellite Communication Systems; Presented by Tony Rich
Discussing the endless satellite communication systems that are now utilized on today’s Peterbilt trucks. Things like maintenance reminders, lane departure warnings, live camera images, predictive cruise control, collision mitigation and predictive diagnostics. Today’s trucks are constantly sending information that can be accessed with the click of a mouse.

John Deere – Advanced Machine control from John Deere; Presented by Matt Weiland and Greg Vannorsdel
Learn how advanced technology can make a machine easier to operate and be more productive. John Deere SmartGrade machines are cutting edge technology that is fully integrated into the machine.  This session will explain the technology and how it makes the next generation job site smarter.

During the MTTIA Conference, the TCOE released an updated Instructor Survey.  This survey has been an annual survey released after the start of the regular school year, but this year’s survey was enhanced, and divided into four unique areas, to ask more specific questions related to how the TCOE/ISA-TOPE provides value and can improve on what we do on a regular basis.  The links below are to the various surveys that have been completed.  Please feel free to complete the appropriate survey:

Eagle’s Healing Nest – Nest Fest

On August 26, 2023, the ISA-TOPE equipment was on display and a booth was set up during the Eagle’s Healing Nest “Nest Fest”. Eagles Healing Nest is a non-profit organization located in Sauk Centre, MN providing housing and resources for veterans and their families suffering from various issues such as drug and alcohol addictions, homelessness, poverty, and PTSD.  The TCOE was available to answer questions about various transportation careers and the children that were there for the event were able to “touch-a-truck”.  This event is predominately attended by Veterans and their families.  An estimated 750 people attended. This event produced several conversations and connections with people interested in becoming CDL instructors.

Another “False Positive” on ISA-TOPE Truck

On 8/29/2023 we experienced another “false positive” where the Crash Mitigation System (CMS) in the ISA-TOPE truck activated a brief warning and then engaged emergency braking.  The event only slowed the vehicle about 10-15 mph before releasing and there was no traffic immediately behind us.  In this case, unlike the others, the Adaptive Cruise Control was NOT activated, there was no vehicle being tracked on radar, the lane in front of us was clear, but there was traffic in the lane to the left of us (a car immediately beside us and a semi-truck/trailer approximately 350 feet in front of us one lane to our left).  We were approaching an overpass while traveling in the right-hand westbound lane of I-94 at highway speed (approximately 65MPH) about 1:30pm.  This is the third time a similar event has occurred We have had the vehicle less than two years.


The ISA-TOPE truck was used during an open house and ribbon cutting celebration for Eagle’s Healing Nest, a non-profit organization located in Sauk Centre, MN providing housing and resources for veterans and their families suffering from various issues such as drug and alcohol addictions, homelessness, poverty, and PTSD.  TCOE staff was available to answer questions about various transportation careers and the children there for the event were able to “touch-a-truck”.

Carl, Shannon, and Forrest co-presented at HI-TEC and showcased the new curriculum that has been created for the project.  There was a Q&A session at the end of the presentation with several thoughtful questions and many seemed accepting of the material presented.  This curriculum is going through a final review process before being disseminated.


A short time ago, it was reported that Freightliner has had issues with their Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) system activating the brakes when there was no evident reason for the activation and that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was looking into the issue. On June 6, the ISA-TOPE truck experienced two separate instances of this type of event. These are the only two instances of this type of event that has been experienced/documented. We have been working with Freightliner advisors to determine possible root causes and solutions. In other news, the ISA-TOPE skid steer was used as part an Empower Summer Camp at Minnesota North’s campus in Hibbing. This camp is a free day camp for 14-17-year-olds with a focus on female participants (see picture below). The 8-day camp allowed participants to experience hands-on projects in up to 8 different trades which included: Automotive, Heating & Cooling, Electrical (2), Heavy Equipment, Carpentry, Welding, and Industrial Mechanical Technology. (see flyer below). On June 22nd, the ISA-TOPE truck was used for training of Scouts earning their transportation badge. This was a 4-hour class talking about multiple aspects of transportation, from supply chain to truck safety, maintenance to truck inspections, and autonomous technology to career options in the industry.  The Scout Leader in attendance indicated there may be opportunities to present this material at other scouting events (camps, scout leadership training, Jamborees, etc.).


Curriculum work continues in earnest in preparation for sharing at the Hi-TEC conference in July.  In addition to the work on curriculum, two ISA-TOPE outreach events were scheduled over the summer for the ISA-TOPE equipment at an organization helping veterans, service members and their families who suffer from the effects of trauma and the invisible wounds of war including PTSD, anxiety, and addiction.  The outreach event will help these veterans explore the possibilities of employment in meaningful and needed careers.  The team also received notice from Dr. Jackman, our current Program Officer overseeing the ISA-TOPE grant, that a new Program Officer will be assigned to the grant in the near future.


ISA-TOPE equipment was on display during the ITEEA (International Technology & Engineering Educators Association) Annual Conference held April 12-15 at the Minneapolis Convention Center. This four-day conference had an estimated 800 people in attendance from as far away as Croatia and China.  The conference also included student TEECA Robotics and Problem Solving Competitions. The ISA-TOPE display was well attended by both instructors and students. Career pathways for robotics and engineering students in transportation seemed to be the most common and thought-provoking discussions. NSF and ATE also had booths at this event.


ISA-TOPE equipment was featured at the Bridges Career Fair held at Central Lakes College.  This career exploration event drew an estimated 2,400 high school students from across the state.  During this event, a newer and easier way of demonstrating the technology was discovered which will be used in future events.  During transit to Dakota County Technical College later in the month, some electrical issues were discovered on the ISA-TOPE tractor; the problems have been intermittent and we have not yet discovered the root cause.  The ISA-TOPE equipment was used at Dakota County Technical College at the Heavy Equipment Technician program; the time there was scheduled for 2 weeks, but that time was extended into April.  New surveys were created to document and assist operators of the skid steer to perform proper start-ups and pre-trip inspections; QR codes have been created and will be on display in the skid steer for use by the operator.  The requested no-cost extension for the ISA-TOPE grant was granted.  The term of the grant has been extended to the end of March, 2024.


Additional requests for ISA-TOPE equipment continue to be received. In addition to our first request received last month, we have received two additional official requests, and multiple verbal/e-mail inquiries. One of the official requests is for the Heavy Construction Equipment Maintenance at Dakota County Technical College, and the other is for a career fair at Central Lakes College that is expected to attract approximately 3500 high school students. This month also saw our first official delivery through the “Can I Borrow That?” program.  The Heavy-Duty Truck Technician course at Dakota County Technical College, and its 28 students, borrowed the equipment for training on Autonomous Technology.  In additional news, co-PI Hadfield received his Commercial Driver’s License and can now deliver ISA-TOPE equipment if needed, and a no-cost extension request has been sent to the ISA-TOPE grant’s AOR and is awaiting validation of available budget and final AOR approval before being forwarded to NSF.


January 2023 had a couple of important events. The first was attendance by ISA-TOPE PI Borleis, co-PI Hadfield, and Forrest Brownlee to the Association of Equipment Dealerships (AED) Annual Conference held in Chicago, and the second was our first official request for the ISA-TOPE equipment through our “Can I Borrow That?” resource. The AED conference provided important professional development for attending teachers/instructors, but most importantly for the ISA-TOPE project, it allowed for some important discussion on the need for autonomous vehicle standards and task lists to be included in the updated accreditation standards due to come out in 2024. Our initial request for ISA-TOPE equipment (both the truck and track loader) will be going to the Heavy Duty Truck Technician training located at Dakota County Technical College and will be there for approximately two weeks. Also of note, in addition to these two items, is the continued training of co-PI Hadfield to obtain his Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). He has a testing date scheduled for February. 



Truck fenders were installed on the ISA-TOPE truck in order to reduce the amount of road spray and potential rock chips and paint chips caused by the lack of fenders and the open design of the ISA-TOPE trailer. The six ISA-TOPE outreach videos have been completed and are available for viewing on our webpage. Training continues for ISA-TOPE co-PIs to obtain their CDL.  This will allow for more options and opportunities to share and deliver ISA-TOPE technology to interested parties.


The ISA-TOPE equipment was at several outreach events this month, starting with the CTE Works Summit in Alexandria, MN. CTE Works is a gathering of CTE professionals mainly from Minnesota, but administrators from Wisconsin were also there. The tractor was also on display at the Transportation Careers Showcase at Dakota County Technical College with approximately 275 students attending the event which showcases careers in truck maintenance. The equipment was well received at both events with several verbal requests to borrow the equipment.  Although there have not been any official requests for the equipment through our website, we have had verbal requests for the equipment from ND, SD, MN, WI, and IL.  The travel budget for ISA-TOPE was designed to serve the needs within Minnesota.  We may have to look for funding options if we are able to accommodate the out of state requests from a capacity standpoint.


Our website,, received a major facelift this month.  A new look and additional resources have been added to the page.  Work continues on the curriculum development, but is slow due to added workload on various Co-PIs on the project.  The license plates arrived for the ISA-TOPE tractor.  A DOT inspection is needed on ISA-TOPE trailer.  An appointment was created with a local shop to complete the work, but the appointment had to be pushed into November due to a COVID-19 outbreak at the shop.


Materials submitted for the ATE Connects portion of the PI conference in October; this represents a 2-hour session where interested persons come by to ask questions and gain additional information about our NSF project. Curriculum for the operation and pre-trip of the ISA-TOPE truck was completed and accepted by review of the Advisory Council.  ISA-TOPE truck was used at multiple outreach events in conjunction with Steve Hoemberg, TCOE’s Director of Outreach. Truck Maintenance and Repair curriculum has been delayed due to a reduction of staff at the Automotive program at MState; Co-PI Mohn is working 12-hour shifts training automotive students. A lease agreement has been finalized with legal for use in our “Can I Borrow That?” program related to ISA-TOPE equipment; this includes an extensive check-in/check-out form and process.


MTTIA had lower than anticipated attendance for Monday’s track loader training, but Tuesday’s truck training had more than anticipated, but the trainer canceled the morning of the training.  Training was still conducted on what the capacities are of the vehicle, along with demonstrations of the technology in action.  Video recording/production began on the outreach videos at MTTIA and was mostly completed within two weeks following MTTIA; still waiting on industry trainers from Freightliner to conduct their portion of the video recording. Received a recall notice for the steering linkage of the ISA-TOPE tractor and had needed repairs completed on the defective item. We submitted our request for a presentation at the PI Conference in Washington DC in October.


Received pricing for the6 outreach video production; work to begin at MTTIA. Business office at DCTC seems confused on process for titling/registering ISA-TOPE truck; sent them procedures used by other colleges. Spent a day getting ready for the Mall of America’s Experience STEAM showcase in August. Work continues on the graphic design for the truck wrap; project completion is due to be complete in time for MTTIA. Still waiting for truck license plate; operating under a temporary permit.  Have reached out to DVS to check on status and review process for completion; several forms were not submitted properly, causing the additional delay. Trainers, along with their bios have been confirmed for the MTTIA training in August.


Laser and grade rod for the track loader/attachment, along with the tripod have been picked up from the CAT dealer. Had an in-person work day in Hibbing on the track loader and autonomous equipment; spent the day working on acquiring more skills related to the new technology. Received message from CAT trainers that the MTTIA training will have to be modified as there is not enough training materials to fill the time needed for scheduled classroom training; training will now include more hands-on activities.


ISA-TOPE trailer is picked up from dealer. Went to pick up ISA-TOPE Tractor, but there was a problem with the braking/wiring system and our new trailer.  Freightliner is working on a solution.


Annual report was returned from the Program Manager for editing/review; edits were made and the report was accepted. Freightliner is being delayed another 2 weeks for delivery; production delays were listed as reason. Contacted the Partnership for Transportation Innovation and Opportunity (; they focus on adoption and furthering of autonomous vehicle technology.  Flyer has been created to showcase our training for the MTTIA conference. Received training from CAT related to professional development and technical data. Dealer has taken delivery of ISA-TOPE trailer; we are scheduling pickup soon. Skid steer was delivered to Hibbing where Forrest will begin curriculum development.