Where driverless cars transport students

Back in the days, when people had their first encounter with airplanes they must have thought of a miracle. Same with television – how is it possible that I can see on a screen what a person is doing at the other end of the globe? Often we’ve experienced that something initially regarded as fantasy-like becomes part of reality. Only a few years ago, driverless cars were held to be another implausible-sounding invention never to make it into mass production. Last month, the first driverless vehicle was put on service in Singapore – a milestone for the automobile industry.

How far have we come?

We’ve all seen images of the driverless Google car, the Toyota Prius engineered by Sebastian Thrun, director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. It’s not just Google, however, carmakers such as Mercedes, Nissan, and Volvo all work hard to develop autonomous versions of their “drivable” cars. While many in the industry claim the technology to be more or less ready for commercial use, policy makers aren’t. The main reasons for the hesitation results from the unforeseeably consequences such a step will bring along. It is almost impossible to believe at this moment, that I could be driven to work by a ghost chauffeur and hence “order” my car back home so that my spouse can use it while I’m working. Apart from the fact that the sheer activity of driving a car then becomes extinct, the world would highly benefit from the driverless car. As the just mentioned example illustrates, owning a second car is no longer necessary so there would be fewer cars on the road. Older people would be re-introduced into a more mobile life. And the supposedly largest advantage so expert claim derives from the fact that car accidents will be reduced to a never seen low.[1] Most car accidents are the result of human failure – a machine, so they say, is error-free.

First mile, last mile transport solutions

And yet driverless vehicles have recently been put on service in Singapore. Nanyang Technological University has the largest campus of any university in Singapore. For a while, the university has sought to solve its mobility issues – it has the largest university campus in the country. Students had to walk for miles to reach a faculty. Being a top technology university, Nanyang ordered a fully electric and autonomous vehicle called NAVIA made by French mobility company Induct.[2] Yes fully electric and autonomous! With a capacity of up to 8 passengers, the NAVIA’s duty will be to transport students from A to B on campus. Thereby, GPS and multiple sensors let the vehicle find its way. An intelligent laser system scans the surrounding whereby the NAVIA is constantly updated about obstacles in the environment. The interesting bit about this project is that it shows us the current role autonomous vehicles can fill within society at this very moment. They work perfectly as a solution to first mile, last mile transport problems: the clean NAVIA provides mobility needed for transport in large airports, hospitals, or educational institutions, such as Nanyang. And once the NAVIA has proven to work efficiently and safely then the day may be nearer when the phrase “don’t drink and drive” will no longer be of relevance.

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