Google guesses it will be 30 years or more before truly autonomous vehicles can drive everywhere on public roads under any conditions. Shortening that timeline means improving the technology, or simplifying the environment.
Auro Robotics is choosing the latter.
The three-year-old startup is starting to deploy autonomous vehicles at US universities to dominate the market for automated shuttles. Auro’s electric self-driving golf-carts have already roamed the campuses of Santa Clara University and California State University Sacramento during pilot projects. The company claims it will now roll out an autonomous shuttle service for “a major American university” in 2016.
While Google, Tesla, Uber, and others are building self-driving vehicles for America’s roads and highways, Nalin Gupta, Auro’s CEO, is intent on commercializing the technology as soon as possible. Google, which has been testing its self-driving vehicles at its Mountain View headquarters for at least a year, has not yet made a major move to sell its technology.
University and corporate campuses offer an ideal proving ground for fully automated vehicle fleets since they lack heavy government regulation, high-speed roads, or geographic variation. Auro’s carts seat about five people and travel up to 10 miles per hour. Radar, laser scanners, cameras, and sensors create a three-dimensional map of the surroundings, enabling the vehicles to avoid obstacles and pedestrians.
Auro’s vehicles can follow a predefined route or respond to on-demand requests. The company has said it will charge about $5,000 per month for the shuttles to at universities. Amusement parks, resorts, and industrial sites are likely to follow.