The Santa Clara University campus is the beta test grounds for the autonomous shuttle system being developed by Silicon Valley start-up Auro Robotics. Test engineers will occupy at least one of the four seats on the modified golf cart, monitoring technology and safety as well as the user experience.
The pedestrian campus allows Auro to observe and adjust its service in a large but traffic-free area that replicates the target market, the university said in a statement. In addition to colleges, the company envisions these vehicles at theme parks, resorts, industrial campuses, and retirement communities.
SCU is a private institution, meaning the experiment does not require government approval. In addition, Auro Robotics co-founder and CEO Nalin Gupta praised the university's "technology-forward mindset."
One primary goal during the pilot programme will be learning whether the "shuttle bus" mode (a fixed route with a number of stops) or the "on demand" mode is more feasible and popular.
The benefit could extend to students, faculty and staff not only on campus but in accessing public transit such as Caltrain and the potential BART station nearby, the statement said. The electric vehicle uses an array of sensors such as laser scanners, radar, cameras and GPS to create a 360-degree view.
It is conditioned to avoid pedestrians by adjusting its route, or to stop completely if necessary. The ride should be smooth because the sensors can evaluate as far as 200 meters away.
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Not only does the vehicle sense pedestrians, it measures their speed and direction to assess whether those pedestrians will still be in the path, giving more lead time to adjust the route and speed.
The prototype at SCU is the company's only vehicle; as the tests generate more data and feedback, the company will build next-generation vehicles that will look less like golf carts. Future vehicles could hold anywhere from one to five passengers, or even more in (for instance) an amusement park.
For the first month of the pilot, the vehicle will not have any university passengers. As Auro gathers data and makes adjustments, the company and university will develop guidelines for faculty, staff, and students to use the service.
Gupta said the experience on campus, with or without passengers, provides valuable information that can't be produced in a lab. "Every type of environment has some peculiarities. Those kinds of things take the most time and represent the greatest engineering challenge," Gupta added.