This Is What It’s Like to Ride in an Autonomous Vehicle and a First  for Santa Clara University

This Is What It’s Like to Ride in an Autonomous Vehicle and a First for Santa Clara University

By Bruce Naegel March 2017

SSV and electric/autonomous vehicles

The SSV Net Positive Bay Area initiative includes the goal to sequester more carbon than we generate in 2050. Part of getting to that goal means getting carbon out of our transportation segment. Electric autonomous vehicles are part of how we get there. Santa Clara University has had a long-standing relationship with SSV and they have an interesting “first.”

A close encounter of the autonomous kind

Autonomous Vehicle at SCU
Autonomous Vehicle waiting for passengers Phot by Bruce Naegel

I was lucky enough to ride in a self-driving autonomous vehicle recently, on the Santa Clara University campus. This vehicle was built by Auro, a firm also located in Santa Clara. Riding shotgun with no hands on the wheel (there was no wheel) was Eric Weber. Eric is a Field Engineer for Auro who is acting as a safety engineer. If something goes wrong, he is the person to make it right.

This vehicle is the first autonomous vehicle service operating on a university campus in the US and perhaps the world. It has been featured in over a dozen media outlets. (see references below). Like the rest of the service vehicles on the Santa Clara campus, the vehicle is electric.

See below on how you can ride it as well.

Autonomous Vehicle Stop on SCU Campus
Autonomous Vehicle Stop on SCU Campus. Photo by Bruce Naegel

Three key trends

Auro embodies three key trends in the future of transportation: electric power, autonomous drive, and new business models. Auro’s new business model is to provide the vehicle as a service. The competition today offers a service providing a driver on similar vehicles to the one Auro uses.

But Auro can offer the autonomous alternative at a price lower than the service with a person driving and still generate a healthy profit. This new service model represents a great way to generate a continuous revenue stream while minimizing the risk to an early adopter customer.  The customer can invest in a monthly fee instead of having to put the capital into a vehicle. This is similar in some respects to the way Stanford purchased electric buses from BYD. They are on a 5-year lease and the economic justification was based on the monthly costs as compared to the monthly cost of a diesel bus.

How does it work?

I walked onto the campus looking for the self-driving autonomous vehicle. I then ran into it on its way from the parking garage to travel on its appointed rounds around the campus. As currently configured, the autonomous vehicle goes to the parking garage. The vehicle then goes to the guard station leading into campus. Next, it travels to the chapel and to another one of the entrances on campus. Finally, it goes to the other side of campus and loops around heading back to the parking garage. Anyone can wave it down and get on board.

What is it like to ride in the vehicle?

It is smooth and steady with excellent control and no drama as the vehicle works its way across camps. It stops at its predetermined spots and for pedestrians and others that may block its way. I felt no fear of any challenges as the vehicle made its rounds with no one steering and driving.

One interesting feature is the large LED display with the map that displays the route. A picture of this display is below.

Autonomous Vehicle Display Screen
Autonomous Vehicle Display Screen Picture by Bruce Naegel

So how does this compare to the vehicles from Google (Waymo), and the other auto manufacturers?

Auro has decided to focus on a part of the market not really addressed by the automakers, campus travel. There is a need to be able to move people around from one section of campus to another.   Universities, large corporate campuses, and transportation hubs (e.g. airports, large railway stations) have a need for this kind of vehicle.

 

Would you like to ride as well?

 

The autonomous vehicle service is available to all who ask. The vehicle runs from 9-12 and 1-5 on weekdays and 9-12 on Sunday. Given the distance from the parking lot to the church on campus,  this is a service aimed at making it easier for elderly parishioners to attend church. One of the stops is very near the entrance directions booth.   So you too can ride in an autonomous vehicle,

 

 

References:

 

These are some of the articles that discuss this vehicle. On the week this service was announced, at least six media outlets saw the vehicle. The first article listed relates to how to address these kinds of vehicles in the legal setting.  SCU’s Law school has a well-deserved reputation so this will be a vital piece of the final solution.

Legal aspects of autonomous Vehicles
http://digitalcommons.law.scu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2726&context=lawreview

Various article on the SCU Autonomous Vehicle

http://spectrum.ieee.org/view-from-the-valley/transportation/self-driving/autonomous-shuttle-brakes-for-squirrels-skateboarders-and-texting-students

http://www.centerdigitaled.com/higher-ed/Autonomous-Shuttle-Test-Could-Help-Santa-Clara-University-with-Transportation-Needs.html

http://srtctransportation.blogspot.com/2017/01/santa-clara-university-gets-first-us.html

https://medium.com/@mitchturck/state-of-autonomy-december-recap-9f9049287d99#.485nj3cfk

http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/Santa-Clara-University-Launches-Driverless-Shuttle-Service-Around-Campus-401345376.html Includes Video