As transportation changes with the advent of autonomous vehicles and other innovations, some of the field’s old problems are beginning to receive new attention. Transportation systems in cities have always suffered from what’s known as the last-mile problem; the reality that there has been no good way to get people from a train station or a parking lot to their destination without relying on that person to walk.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) have been developing a solution for this problem by creating a new application for autonomous vehicle technology: autonomous scooters.
The MIT and NUS researchers have been testing scooters built with the same sensor technology and software as self-driving cars. The goal is to use these scooters to shuttle individuals between destinations. They will be usable both on streets and indoors, as the researchers hope they could be used to help the mobility-impaired find their destinations.
Current testing has taken place on the MIT campus, including in academic buildings. The scooter was built to be cheap, relying on many fewer sensors than an autonomous car. The decreased number of sensors also allows the software to work more efficiently, with less data to sift through.
This adaptation of AV technology will be continued by MIT and NUS as autonomous vehicles become more prevalent. They also hope to apply the technology to other unconventional vehicles, like golf carts, to determine the most effective way to solve this last-mile problem. Self-driving cars could be on our roads as early as next year and this project is intended to fit into a fully autonomous transportation system, with end-to-end transportation, in the next few years.
MIT and NUS have both been important in the development of self-driving cars, with the cities of Boston and Singapore both leading in autonomous vehicle legislation and testing. Self-driving taxis are on the road in Singapore today, and it is expected that the city-state will be one of the first cities to fully embrace the technology. Boston is one of the U.S. leaders in planning for autonomous vehicles. Now, they hope to embrace autonomous scooters as well.