Focus at Four: Take a ride with no driver in A&M's autonomous vehicle

Published: Jul. 26, 2017 at 5:06 PM CDT
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It's the car so smart, it drives you.

That's the point behind Texas A&M University's autonomous golf cart, now testing as a shuttle for public passengers.

The technology has been in development for years, led by Texas A&M Department of Mechanical Engineering assistant professor Dr. Srikanth Saripalli.

Saripalli says, he's waited a long time for this day.

"The first time we did this, it was weird," said Saripalli from the back seat of the golf cart driven by no one. "I think now I've gotten used to it."

What the golf cart lacks in human brainpower, it apparently makes up for in technology.

"The vehicle has a bunch of sensors, just like we have our eyes, ears," Saripalli said. "The vehicle has cameras, lasers, a GPS unit, and it takes information from all these systems and uses them to create a 3D map of the environment."

Indeed, on the dash a monitor displays the very same 3D map used by the car to navigate itself around roads and obstacles. The display is meant to inspire confidence in an otherwise wary passenger.

"[Being wary] is natural," said Saripalli. "A big part of our research is to make sure passengers and pedestrians trust the autonomous vehicle."

With so many developments still happening, Saripalli is hesitant to guess when self-driving vehicles will be available for the general public to own.

"I want to say maybe ten years," said Saripalli. "But I have been wrong before."

At Texas A&M, the timeline is shorter. Saripalli says the university will use self-driving shuttles to cart new students on their first day on campus.

Then, down the line, "the goal is to have a fleet," Saripalli said. "Maybe 10 to 15 running on campus, and you have an app like Uber or Lyft, and you can call an autonomous vehicle to come pick you up."

If you'd like to take a ride in the self-driving golf cart, hop on at the Stella Hotel in Bryan. The autonomous shuttle will be rolling Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 10 a.m. until noon and again from 4 p.m. until 6 p.m.