The university partnered with the Michigan Department of Transportation and engineers to research two autonomous shuttles designed to improve transportation options for people with disabilities.
(TNS) — Students at Western Michigan University should keep an eye out for a self-driving shuttle around campus as research on autonomous vehicles continues at the school.
With $2.1 million in funds from the Michigan Mobility Challenge, the university partnered with the Michigan Department of Transportation and engineers to research two autonomous shuttles designed to improve transportation options for people with disabilities, according to a news release from WMU.
Pratt & Miller Engineering, the University of Michigan, Kevadiya Inc., Robotic Research, Comet Mobility and Easterseals are all collaborating with WMU on this project, the university said.
“I’m pleased to see that Pratt & Miller has brought this important project to campus and appreciate the work of people across the university to pilot this important advance in mobility,” WMU President Edward Montgomery said in a statement. “WMU is committed to serving our students and society. This project is an excellent example of that; applying the knowledge of our world-class faculty and students to develop and test cutting-edge transportation technology.”
Engineers at Pratt & Miller modified two shuttles for accessibility, including lengthening the wheel base, adding wheelchair restraints and redesigning the interior of the vehicles. From there, engineers collaborated with Robotic Research to integrate an autonomous system that allows the shuttles to run without a driver, the university said.
The shuttles were tested for safety and function at Robotic Research facility, but researchers now need real-world passengers for the next stage of the project, the university said.
“This project is a textbook example of how our WMU researchers collaborate with others to solve real-world problems,” Terri Goss Kinzy, vice president for research at WMU, said in the release.
Zach Asher, WMU assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and graduate students Nick Goberville and Johan Rojas conducted research for WMU’s role in the project. The students helped with environmental mapping and modeling for the shuttles, the university said.
The first shuttle arrived on campus in September. One of the shuttles was on display at Western’s campus Thursday, Oct. 3. Engineers will drive the shuttle manually with a remote control while researchers remotely collect data from sensors and begin mapping a route.
The technology does not involve a driver, pedals or a steering wheel, though a safety operator will be on board at all times. Rides are expected to begin Monday, Oct. 21, and will run for a couple of weeks, the university said.
The tentative route would run in a loop from a loading area west of Sangren Hall directly south to the fountain near Sprau Tower.
For those on campus, the engineers ask that people keep a safe distance away from the shuttle. The vehicles will not exceed 4 mph, and the technology is built to stop them whenever someone or something comes within a few feet, the university said.
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