Santa Clara University Begins Driverless Shuttle Service Trial

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An Indian American-led Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup is opening the door to a potential groundbreaking service at Santa Clara, Calif., University this fall. Nalin Gupta’s Auro Robotics, which he co-founded and is the CEO, provided the university with a driverless shuttle service. After a three-day trial last month, the company and university are embarking on a three-month pilot program this fall.

While the pilot program is ongoing, test engineers will occupy at least one of the four seats on the modified golf cart to monitor the technology, safety and user experience. Auro Robotics saw Santa Clara University, a largely pedestrian campus, as the perfect location for the pilot program as it tests out this autonomous shuttle system.

The electric vehicle uses an array of sensors such as laser scanners, radar, cameras and GPS to create a 360-degree view. It is conditioned to avoid pedestrians by adjusting its route or to stop completely if necessary.

A rider’s experience should be smooth, with sensors evaluating up to 200 meters away. The prototype at the campus is the company’s only vehicle at this time. As the tests turn into next-generation vehicles, they will move away from the golf cart look and will be able to carry up to five passengers and sometimes even more, if at, say, an amusement park.

In addition to colleges, Auro Robotics hopes to incorporate the vehicles at places like theme parks, resorts, industrial campuses and retirement communities.

Godfrey Mungal, dean of the school of engineering at SCU, said, “This is a unique way to bringSilicon Valley to their doorstep and expand their education beyond the classroom.” Aside from SCU being about five miles from Auro Robotics’ headquarters, the college is forward thinking with technology, according to Gupta.

Gupta’s company’s business model is based on low upfront costs and a monthly subscription. The pilot program will test whether the shuttle bus mode – with fixed routes and a certain number of stops – or the on demand mode – more direct – is more feasible and popular.

The autonomous shuttle could benefit students, faculty and staff on campus and if the final mile trek needed to be made from nearby public transportation stops. For the first month of the pilot, the vehicle will not have any university passengers. As Auro Robotics gathers data and makes adjustments, the company and university will develop guidelines for faculty, staff and students to use the service.

Gupta said in a statement the experience on campus, with or without passengers, provides valuable information that can’t be produced in a lab. “Every type of environment has some peculiarities. Those kinds of things take the most time and represent the greatest engineering challenge,” he said.

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