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Driving into the future with autonomous shuttles

The driverless shuttle will be outside Cooper Hall and the library from  9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ORACLE FILE PHOTO/LEDA ALVIM. 

As technology continues to advance over time, many people wonder when we might enter the age of “The Jetsons” with flying cars or “iRobot” with self-driving vehicles.

Now, students on campus will be able to experience the next step toward the future: autonomous shuttles.

According to Pei-Sung Lin, the traffic operations and safety program director for USF’s Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR), the demonstration of the driverless shuttles will take place every day this week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the area in front of Cooper Hall. Though today’s demonstration is expected to be canceled as a result of expected bad weather.

This week of demonstrations are not a guarantee that the shuttles will be a permanent addition to campus.

“This is just a demonstration for now,” Lin said in an interview with The Oracle. “USF, CUTR and the community are going to look into it for the future. But this demonstration will provide an opportunity for everybody to provide their input. So that will help us in the future to hear the expectations of students and everyone.”

Lin said the area outside of Cooper Hall and the library was chosen because of the high amount of foot traffic and because he wants the shuttles to be “readily available” for students to try.

Lin said the company responsible for creating the shuttles, Autonomous Coastal, has been successful in other countries before.

“Based on the information available, the autonomous shuttles from the Coast Autonomous have been tested in over seven countries,” Lin wrote in an email to The Oracle. “ The company expects to have their autonomous shuttles on roads operational in the (U.S.) in the next three years.”

According to Lin, the shuttles can reach speeds of up to 15 mph and can hold 8-10 passengers at a time.

Safety is a primary concern for CUTR while the demonstrations take place.

Lin said that there is software in the shuttles that will detect surrounding vehicles, pedestrians or structures to avoid collisions.

“According to the website of Coast Autonomous and our conversation with their Chief Technology Officer, their autonomous vehicles have advanced sensors, lidar, camera, and mandatory built-in redundancies, and always will be able to stop safely,” Lin wrote. “The autonomous vehicles analyze the environment to determine their speed and behavior, thereby providing optimum safety for passengers, pedestrians and other vehicles on the road.”

Lin added that for the purposes of the demonstration, a trained operator will be on each shuttle in case of an emergency.

“I am not aware of any events of their shuttles not stopping when they are supposed to,” Lin wrote. “In our upcoming autonomous shuttle demo next week, an operator from the Coast Autonomous will always be on the shuttle to take full control of the shuttle in case of any emergency to ensure safety.”