Driverless Shuttle Aimed at Campuses, Inner Cities

A driverless shuttle vehicle unveiled at CES can carry up to 10 people, learning any new route with a single trip and responding to rider stops when requested.

By Lucas Mearian
Mon, January 06, 2014

Computerworld — LAS VEGAS -- French company Induct demonstrated for the first time in the U.S. a driverless eight passenger robotized shuttle, design for transportation in city centers and campus settings.

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The all-electric shuttle, called Navia, looks a bit like an oversized golf cart, but instead of seats, passengers lean against padded inner sides. Today, the vehicle travelled a closed course at the CES conference here, stopping at designated spots to allow riders to exit the vehicle before continuing along its route.

Unlike Google's efforts to build a driverless car, Induct chose a shuttle because it can be placed into immediate use without the danger of interacting with other major roadway traffic.

"We've tested it for the past year and a half in Europe, Asia and the U.S.," said Max Leferve, who co-founded the company with his father Pierre. "The tech in Google's car is very expensive. We used the most affordable sensors ... to create a vehicle we can sell."

Leferve said his company built the vehicle smaller so as to facilitate faster loading and offloading of passengers. He also said it's 40% to 60% less expensive than a typical shuttle bus, which can cost up to $200,000 per year to run, including the pay of a driver.

"This vehicle costs $250,000 for a four year lease," he said.

While Leferve's company built the vehicle, it won't be manufacturing the fleet. The company plans to sell the intellectual property for others to build and sell.

Leferve said the company has adopters in the U.S., but didn't reveal who they are.

The Navia uses technology called SLAM (Simultaneous localization and mapping), which builds a map within an unknown environment and can be updated at will.

"It sees where you're driving and creates a map," Leferve said.

The Navia self-driving, all-electric shuttle

The vehicle is programmed through an onboard touch screen display. When in program mode, the vehicle is taken on a route by a driver, learning it as it goes along. Stops are then preset, at buildings on a campus, for example, and riders can use the touch-screen display to designate a stop for themselves. A set of gates slide closed while the vehicle is in motion, and they open for stops.

The Navia has four laser sensors, one on each corner of the vehicle. The lasers scan up 25 times per second at distances of up to 200 yards, aligning the vehicle to its pre-set course and while remaining wary of any obstacles. If an object suddenly enters the path of the shuttle, such as a pedestrian, it will automatically stop.

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