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UC San Diego using driver-less vehicles to deliver mail in step toward ferrying people

UC San Diego using driver-less vehicles to deliver mail in step toward ferrying people
Driscoll, foreground, logistics supervisor of student mail and the safety driver on a large golf cart style driver-less vehicle at UC San Diego, along with Nathan Chan, background, a graduate student at the Jacobs School of Engineering who oversees the software and is the planning lead on the project of testing two driver-less vehicles, deliver mail to Warren College at the university. Although the cars are driver-less there still is a safety driver who takes over when needed. Photographed November 26, 2019 in San Diego, California.(Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

UC San Diego has begun using driverless vehicles to deliver the mail to two of its six residential colleges, an experiment that’s expected to lead to ferrying large numbers of people around the huge, crowded campus.

The two carts carry safety drivers who can intervene if problems arise, and usually a graduate student to monitor the vehicle’s assortment of sensors. But the vehicles — like those being tested at other universities — are mostly run by customized computer programs.

The experimental project began in September and has been ramping up as the university’s Contextual Robotics Institute (CRI) has refined how the carts operate.

“We’re examining how you use autonomous vehicles in an urban environment where you find pedestrians, bicycles and other types of traffic,” said Henrik Christensen, director of CRI. “The campus has about 65,000 students, faculty and workers, so this is a perfect place to test the technology.”

The elongated carts are each loaded with a large bin of mail, which is then transported to Warren and Sixth colleges, near the Jacobs School of Engineering. The bins are then off-loaded and the mail gets distributed by humans.

473702_sd-me-ucsd-driver-less-vehicels-HL_ UC San Diego has begun testing two driver-less vehicles on campus, using large golf cart style electric vehicles. At least one of the vehicles is used to deliver mail and packages around the university. Although the cars are driver-less there still is a safety driver who takes over when needed. Photographed November 26, 2019 in San Diego, California.(Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

“If the mail is five minutes late, that’s not a problem,” Christensen said. “But we can’t deliver students five minutes late for class.”

Christensen has an ambitious expansion schedule. He’s pushing to have the carts deliver mail to all 13 mail stops on main campus within a year, and possibly to begin transporting passengers along the school’s serpentine roads and pathways.

The goals include sending the carts across the bridge that spans Interstate 5 and links the campus to its health sciences complex and Jacobs Medical Center. He also wants the carts to pick up passengers at the three Blue Line Trolley stations that will open on or near main campus in late 2021.

“If you’ve just had surgery and you need to return to our hospital for a checkup, it would be nice if we could pick you up at the trolley station and take you there in one of these vehicles,” Christensen said.

473702_sd-me-ucsd-driver-less-vehicels-HL_ Cameras and LIDAR (light detection and ranging ), a laser radar, in the background, is used on two large golf cart style driver-less vehicles being tested on the campus at UC San Diego campus. Although the cars are driver-less there still is a safety driver who takes over when needed. Photographed November 26, 2019 in San Diego, California.(Howard Lipin/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

To date, the project hasn’t experienced major problems. But the vehicles have caused some irritation.

“We actually stop at stoplights,” Christensen said. “People get very upset with us because we follow the law. It’s like, ‘Who is this person who stops at all of the lights?’ We had to put ‘Experimental Vehicle: Expect Erratic Driving’ on the back. Otherwise, people will be honking at us. It’s been very interesting.”

Source: www.sandiegouniontribune.com

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