Thursday, April 05, 2007

Driverless Electric Taxi and Parcel Van?

I have finally found something useful to do with a Segway personal transporter. Here is a half serious proposal for an university research project:

Driverless Electric Taxi and Parcel Van

A Segway personal transporter, or similar small electric vehicle, would be equipped for autonomous operation around a campus. The unit could be used a one person driver-less taxi and equipped with a lockable box for the unattended delivery of packages.

A minimum of mechanical changes would be made to the vehicle. A GPS receiver, small computer and wireless communications would be added to allow the vehicle to automatically steer a set course around the campus and into buildings. A GPS equipped smartphone might provide sufficient computing power. The vehicle could open power operated doors and use lifts. The unit could be summoned from a mobile phone or computer web page.

As the vehicle would be relatively light weight and low speed, there would be limited risk from collisions. Its two wheel format would allow access to narrow corridors. Equipped with bright lights it could be safely used at night.

This would not be the first robot based on a Segway. MIT's Cardea is designed to be able to open ordinary doors:
Cardea Segway based MIT Robot
Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have crossed a robotic arm with the bottom half of a Segway to make a robot named Cardea that can traverse hallways and open doors.

Cardea, named after the Roman goddess of thresholds and door pivots, is the one-armed first prototype of a robot designed to have three arms and the ability to safely interact with humans at eye level. ...
From:Segway robot opens doors, By Eric Smalley and Kimberly Patch, Technology Research News, November 19/26, 2003

The Cardera is built on the Segway RMP (Robotic Mobility Platform). This is a family of specially made Segways designed carry cargo:
Segway RMP (Robotic Mobility Platform)
The Segway RMP (Robotic Mobility Platform) is a new mobile platform based on a Segway Human Transporter (HT). It is faster, cheaper, and can carry a greater payload than existing comparable robotic platforms. DARPA IPTO initiated this effort, with SSC San Diego serving as the technical agent. We provided technical oversight, coordination, and tracking of the conversion by Segway, LLC, of fifteen Segway HT I-series machines into RMPs.
From: Segway RMP, SPAWAR, USN, 29 December 2004.

However, a much simpler approach is possible. The standard model Segway has optional lights and panniers for carrying cargo. This could be equipped with a very modest computer and navigation system to allow it to travel around a defined track on a campus. The vehicle could be restricted to defined bicycle paths and particular corridors in buildings. GPS would be sufficient for outdoor navigation and could be supplemented fort indoor use. Simple sensors designed for burglar alarms could be used to detect a person or object in the path, with the vehicle simply stopping. The vehicle could operate automatic doors by simply moving slowly in sensor range. Lifts could be operated by an interface to the lift computer.

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