Self-Driving Golf Carts are Share a Park with Pedestrians in New Experiment (VIDEO)

First Posted: Sep 02, 2015 06:21 AM EDT

Self-driving golf carts may soon be on your golf courses. Researchers have presented an experiment conducted over six days at a large public garden in Singapore in which self-driving golf carts ferried 500 tourists around winding paths trafficked by pedestrians, bicyclists and wildlife.

"We would like to use robot cars to make transportation available to everyone," said Daniela Rus, senior author of the new study, in a news release. "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 researchers asked participants in the experiment to fill out a brief questionnaire after their rides. About 98 percent of the people said that they would use the self-driving golf carts again. Another 95 percent said they would be more likely to visit the gardens again if the golf carts were a permanent fixture.

"The vehicles are instrumented, but they are not as heavily instrumented as the DARPA vehicles [competitors in the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's autonomous-vehicle challenge] were, nor as heavily as, say, the Google car," said Rus. "We believe that if you have a simple suite of strategically placed sensors and augment that with reliable algorithms you will get robust results that require less computation and have less of a chance to get confused by 'fusing sensors,' or situations where one sensor says one thing and another sensor says something different."

The golf carts' sensors consist entirely of a camera and off-the-shelf laser range finders mounted at different heights, since unlike the more sophisticated rangefingers deployed in other autonomous vehicles, they measure distance only in a plane. One of the keys of the system is what researchers call the "dynamic virtual bumper," which can be thought of as a cylinder surrounding the vehicle's velocity. When an obstacle enters the cylinder, the computer redraws the cylinder to exclude it, changing the trajectory, reducing velocity, or both.

"If you think about who needs rides, tit's fast enough for the elderly population who no longer have a driver's license and live in special areas where maybe their friend lives a mile away, and that's too far to walk," said Rus. "If they want to go to the doctor or shopping, they can use the self-driving golf carts because that's within some comfortable distance."

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