WATERLOO — A team of researchers at the University of Waterloo have created a self-driving shuttle bus to travel along the campus’ ring road starting this fall.
Dubbed the Watonobus, its research team says the autonomous, electric eight-seater is driving change as it’s the first of its kind at a Canadian university.
“The whole idea is to somehow replace human with a machine, so whatever we do in driving, meaning perception, understanding and making a decision, we have to replace that,” said Amir Khajepour, lead researcher.
The bus will travel the university’s 2.7 kilometre ring road route, making five stops, all on its own.
The bus maxes out at a speed of 20 km/h, and for now, an operator sits behind the wheel to take over the controls if needed.
“When you finally start putting your trust into it, much like putting your trust in your Uber driver, it’s liberating,” said lab technician Aaron Sherratt.
The equipment that allows the bus to drive itself includes sensors, cameras at the front, back and sides, and a wireless communications system.
“The information that we are receiving to detect all the objects, whether that’s pedestrian or vehicle, or any other object,” Khajepour said.
The goal is to eventually replace the driver with someone monitoring the bus remotely.
There are five buses in total, with the project costing about $1 million, paid for by provincial and federal funding along with contributions from private companies.
Researchers have also developed a smartphone app so users know when a bus is scheduled to arrive.
The research team hopes the shuttle will begin operating in early September, and anyone on campus can get on for a free ride.
Students working on the project expect the bus will be well used.
“We’ve used it a couple of times before, and we will use it in the future,” said engineering student Ruihe Zhang.