Since autonomous vehicles are such an up-and-coming technology, MIT researchers decided to experiment with autonomous golf carts for tourist transportation.
MIT teamed up with researchers from Singapore to form the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) and tested 10 autonomous vehicles on the sidewalks of a Singaporean public garden. The self-driving golf carts transported 500 tourists around at top speeds of 15 mph on winding paths filled with pedestrians, bicyclists, and even lizards.
In addition, the team also tested out an online booking system that allowed visitors to schedule pickups and drop-offs at any of the 10 designated stations scattered around the garden, automatically routing and re-launching the vehicles to accommodate all the requests.
“We would like to use robot cars to make transportation available to everyone,” said Daniela Rus, professor at MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “The idea is, if you need a ride, you make a booking, maybe using your smartphone or maybe on the Internet, and the car just comes.”
The team is trying a “less is more” approach to the autonomous vehicle, making sure they are equipped with technology, but not as much as you’d find on a DARPA or Google autonomous vehicle.
The golf carts include strategically placed sensors made of off-the-shelf laser rangefinders that are augmented with reliable algorithms for a simple solution to self-driving car technology.
The team included technology to avoid obstacles in its path, but during the experiments, the golf carts encountered one problem — a slow-moving lizard. “It was this stop-and-go game over who’s going to do what,” said Rus.
SMART envisions that these self-driving carts could even have future applications in elderly transportation, taking them to the store or on visits when it’s just too far of a walk.
Watch the video below for more information.