Members of the Singapore-Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) have been testing "autonomous" golf carts with the goal of bringing driverless vehicles to the suburbs of cities.
The experiment, conducted over six days at a park in Singapore, featured self-driving golf carts ferrying 500 tourists around winding paths, negotiating encounters with pedestrians, bicyclists and wildlife by means of laser sensors.
The experiment also tested an online booking system that enabled visitors to schedule pick-ups and drop-offs at 10 "stations" scattered around the garden, automatically routing and redeploying the vehicles to accommodate the requests.
Some 98% of participants said they would use the carts again, and 95% said that they would be more likely to visit the gardens if the carts were a permanent fixture.
The buggies, with a top speed of 15mph, are a simplified version of other autonomous vehicles, but are planned to be used in different ways.
Daniela Rus, a professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, said: "We would like to use robot cars to make transportation available to everyone.
"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.
"If you think about who needs rides, it’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.
"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."
Matt Mason, a professor of computer science and robotics at Carnegie Mellon University, said: "The cart was a joy to ride in. It drove all over the place. It avoided all the obstacles we put in its path. And it did it without a lot of intrusive machinery."
SMART is a collaboration between MIT and the National Research Foundation of Singapore, with lead researchers drawn from both MIT and several Singaporean universities.
Images via SMART’s YouTube video