Driverless golf carts coming to the “fore”

Back in June, I told you about driverless taxi cabs.

Now the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology is zeroing in on a simpler, smaller, more subtle approach:

Driverless golf carts.

But they’re not for golf courses. Not yet, anyhow.

“We are trying to build a light-weight vehicle that will tackle the problem of autonomous navigation at low speed in local environments,” said Daniela Rus, a professor in MIT’s Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

“And then, using golf carts, we’re trying to show that we can achieve mobility on demand with a group of self-driving vehicles.

Many major cities now have bicycle sharing programs, where pedal-powered commuters rent a bike to get to work. Rus told Yahoo Canada she has similar ambitions for her carts.

“Bicycle ride-sharing systems are really great, but the bug is that most people tend to go to the same places,” Rus noted.

“So after some number of hours, those stations end up being over-flooded with bicycles, whereas other stations end up being depleted of bicycles. The cities have to hire trucks and people to rebalance those bicycles. So now imagine if the bicycles could drive themselves back to where they’re supposed to be. That’s the concept for these golf carts.”

Rus said the programming for the carts is far simpler than that required for full-size driverless cars.

“The carts are not meant to work on crowded, congested roads,” she explained.

“They are meant to work in places where you will not have many cars zipping by at very high speeds. The vehicles can blend with other vehicles, going slowly, going about 15 to 25 miles per hour, and they can navigate crowds. They can navigate around other vehicles at similar speeds, bicyclists, things like that.”

Say you’ve got to get from one side of a university campus – or any other large, somewhat roadless environment – to another. You can summon one of these carts, and it will simply move on to its next assignment after it drops you off – something ride-share bicycles simply cannot do.

Rus added that there are other advantages to phasing out human drivers.

“Most driving accidents are caused by human error,” she said.

“Also, in the case of mobility on demand, you don’t have to hire people and trucks to take the vehicles where they need to go.”

And what about golf courses? Many golfers already have caddies to carry their clubs. Could a self-driving golf cart be the new wave of golf-links luxury.

There are clear complications. Navigating a golf course is not merely a case of getting from tee to green without driving into a sand trap. There are etiquette concerns – not where to move, but when. How to get around without intruding on a fellow golfer’s backswing.

Rus showed little concern.

“Certainly it could work,” she said.

“You’d have to augment [the navigational programming] with all the roads, and then you could have a great system.”