The future of the car is driverless
SINGAPORE — A hot afternoon at the Science Centre is not typically like a scene out of Star Wars, especially not when one is seated at the controls of an ordinary golf cart.
But this is not a typical afternoon, and I am not in an ordinary golf cart. As the Imperial March plays over built-in speakers, the golf cart revs up and starts driving down the road by itself, its steering wheel moving independently of the two amazed journalists on board.
A scientist steps out on the road in front of us. With a dismayed recorded R2-D2 noise the golf cart comes to a stop. When the scientist moves out of danger, it starts off again.
The SMART autonomous vehicle we are riding on is the brainchild of the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), working in concert with the National University of Singapore.
By fitting an ordinary golf cart with laser sensors and an onboard computer, they’ve developed a smart driverless vehicle that can drive around on its own, stopping to pick up and drop off passengers.
The SMART autonomous vehicle is on display this weekend at the Singapore Science Centre’s Science Street Fair. Its creators are showing off the prototype to introduce the public to a new mode of transportation they call Mobility-On-Demand.
They imagine a fleet of self-driving motorized vehicles that will cut down on travelling time by solving what they call the “first and last mile” problem.
“Most of your commuting time is spent going from your home to the start of the network, and from the end of the network to your final destination like your workplace,” said Dr James Fu, one of the SMART vehicle’s creators. “While most would like to drive, most would agree that you would not like to drive during peak hours. So why not let someone else—or something else—take over for you?”
The scientists at SMART and NUS imagine a fleet of automated vehicles that passengers can call upon during peak hours. Coordinating this fleet of vehicles can minimize the effects of congestion.
Furthermore, the autonomous vehicles will be a boon for those who have difficulty driving, including the elderly, the young, and the disabled.