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Transportation Education Technology Science

Autonomous Shuttle Brakes For Squirrels, Skateboarders, and Texting Students (ieee.org) 74

Tekla Perry writes: An autonomous shuttle from Auro Robotics is picking up and dropping off students, faculty, and visitors at the Santa Clara University Campus seven days a week. It doesn't go fast, but it has to watch out for pedestrians, skateboarders, bicyclists, and bold squirrels (engineers added a special squirrel lidar on the bumper). An Auro engineer rides along at this point to keep the university happy, but soon will be replaced by a big red emergency stop button (think Staples Easy button). If you want a test drive, just look for a "shuttle stop" sign (there's one in front of the parking garage) and climb on, it doesn't ask for university ID.
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Autonomous Shuttle Brakes For Squirrels, Skateboarders, and Texting Students

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    We have similar shuttles (but better looking ones) here at Tampere University of Technology. Check this out http://sohjoa.fi/

  • ...what? (Score:5, Funny)

    by wonkey_monkey ( 2592601 ) on Saturday December 10, 2016 @06:30AM (#53458443) Homepage

    Autonomous Shuttle Brakes For Squirrels, Skateboarders, and Texting Students

    I read "brakes" as a noun. I imagined rodents and students alike being fitted with little rocket packs to bring them to a stop when they're in danger.

    Disappoint.

    • by zm ( 257549 )
      Shuttle breaks are parachutes... When I read the title, I wondered how did they train the squirrels to pack the parachute into the little backpack after it opened?
    • by antdude ( 79039 )

      And that's not a bad idea too. ;)

      • If squirrels can't be fitted with jetpacks I don't want to live on this world any more.

        • If squirrels can't be fitted with jetpacks

          DREADCO [wikipedia.org] tried this years ago. Burned the tails off the squirrels. The ATS (Asbestos-Tailed Squrl) project never got off the ground because the tails were too heavy to move without the jetpack.

          I don't want to live on this world any more.

          Soylent [soylent.com] have an opening for you. Email them and ask about their "green" recruitment programme ; they'll get back to you with your collection point. No hand or hold baggage allowed.

  • I could see this thing driving down the road and the horn says "GET OUT OF THE WAY YOU HAG!", "I GOT THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND, MOVE!". Anyways some of those college students need someone yelling at them to walk faster.
  • Autonomous Shuttle Brakes for Skateboarders and Texting Students

    Why are we thwarting nature? Why are trying to keep the stupid ones around in the herd? Let Evolution do its thing.
  • A house brick, stick, bag of straw or something similar in its path would be sufficient to grief the thing. Maybe a wad of gum over a sensor or a plastic bag. All of which will be a foretaste of what will happen if autonomous vehicles ever become a thing.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      This is why we can't have nice things.

      • by DrXym ( 126579 )
        That may be but unless you account for (changing) human behaviour in your design then you're going to get a nasty surprise. All this sort of thing is completely forseeable so there is no excuse. People will grief vehicles, robbers will cause cars to halt automatically. Even the behaviour of driver/passengers, other road users and pedestrians may adversely change in ways that counteract or negate some of the supposed safety of these cars.
    • Maybe a wad of gum over a sensor or a plastic bag

      Put a wad of gum into or a plastic bag over human sensors and see how they do.

    • I prefer hotwiring it for manual control, driving it to a bad neighborhood, stripping it down, and leaving it turned over on it's roof and covered in gang graffiti myself.
  • I'd like to know what would happen if someone found a stuffed squirrel and put it on the road, would this contraption deduce that it should drive around the squirrel since it is not moving? We have a real long way to go with reasoning in order to reach full autonomy..
    • I'd like to know what would happen if someone found a stuffed squirrel and put it on the road, would this contraption deduce that it should drive around the squirrel since it is not moving? We have a real long way to go with reasoning in order to reach full autonomy..

      Yes. There are many aspects to debug.

      As these technologies are applied to heavier and faster vehicles,

      it will also be necessary to differentiate when to squash the squirrel, rat, or kitten instead of putting the human passengers at risk with a sudden stop.

      • Yes and then some real moral issues surface. At what point is a minor human injury more important than a house pet's life?
        • Given how many variables there are, including the split second difficulty of discerning between a skunk and a housecat, value judgements like these might be difficult to program into the sensors.
          • Which is why they are really, really far away from real autonomy. That's all I'm saying.
          • by bmo ( 77928 )

            The split second decision is to "grit your teeth and keep driving" because swerving at speed to avoid an animal that will probably run the same direction you're swerving (toast usually lands on the floor with the butter side down law of the universe) will probably result in you flattening the animal anyway (Squirrel Squares by Road Ready Flat Snacks (TM)) and your car running into a tree, roadside obstacle, parked car, midget, donkey, midget donkey, parked midget, roadside carnival midget riding a donkey,

      • As these technologies are applied to heavier and faster vehicles,

        This looks like a brand new startup that is trying to do everything from scratch, by themselves, this year.

        Look at what the Germans have been running around test tracks for 5+ years.

        Additionally take into account what sensors they have available for what that cheap vehicle costs.

  • I thought LIDAR was the creme de la creme of sensing technology. One sensor can't detect squirrels?? How many sensors would be required if they had to detect dogs and cats as well like in a real neighborhood? Autonomy has a long long way to go.
  • Just your ordinary, average all-chrome or aluminum bear grille, for the bookish bear, or freshman initiate

    or for your university-trash dumpster diving bears.

  • > a big red emergency stop button (think Staples Easy button).

    Has Slashdot's audience diverged from IT workers so far that a Big Red Button needs explanation? Has no one been in a data center or used industrial equipment lately?

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