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Driverless shuttle aimed at campuses, inner cities

Induct's Navia vehicle can be reprogrammed again and again for any route

January 6, 2014 09:13 PM ET

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.

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.

Computerworld's Lucas Mearian gets a quick test drive of the Induct Navia, an electric, driverless vehicle. The vehicle was on display at CES 2014 in Las Vegas.

"We've tested it for the past year and a half in Europe, Asia and the U.S.," said Max Lefèvre, 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."

Lefèvre 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 Lefèvre'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.

Lefèvre 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," Lefèvre said.

Navia
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.

The vehicle runs on a lithium-ion battery that can power the shuttle for up to seven hours.

Lefèvre said his company has also developed a mobile app that allows pedestrians to call the vehicle to a pre-designated stop. Induct is also working on a website to allow commuters to call for the vehicle at a designated place and time along its preset route.

The Navia currently travels at 15 miles per hour (mph), but it was been tested at up to 25 miles per hour and Lefèvre hopes to test the technology on a faster moving vehicle, perhaps even fast enough to travel on secondary roadways.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at Twitter@lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed Mearian RSS. His email address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

Read more about Location-Based Services in Computerworld's Location-Based Services Topic Center.



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