Researchers to Test Self-Driving Cars on Campus Roads

UC San Diego will be conducting a study of self-driving cars on campus coming this January. The study will be led by the Contextual Robotics Institute and will consist of testing self-driving cars to deliver mail around campus. The institute hopes to overcome the issue of students coming to the center of campus to pick up their mail.

Henrik Christensen, the founding director of the Contextual Robotics Institute, leads the research for the self-driving cars on the UCSD campus and aims to start the study with the delivery of mail to perfect the timing of the system.

“The reason why we started with mail delivery rather than doing person delivery is that if mail is 10 minutes late, it is all OK. If people are 10 minutes late for class, it is not OK,” Christensen said in a statement to the UCSD Guardian. “We are starting out where disruption in the system of 15 minutes is OK and, as we make this very robust, then we will slowly upgrade it.”

The self-driving cars will do more than just deliver mail. The cars may also act as a resource to facilities management.

“These cars will actually be able to determine what is the quality of the road. I can deliver a map to facilities saying here are all the potholes on campus,” Christensen said. Christensen hopes to upgrade to a transportation system after the mail delivery system has been smoothed out. The self-driving cars at UCSD will be almost like a personal Lyft or Uber service for students.

Mohan Trivedi, a professor of electrical & computer engineering at UCSD, has also been working on the research for self-driving cars on the UCSD campus. Speaking on behalf of Trivedi, Doug Ramsey, the Director of Communications for the Qualcomm Institute at UC San Diego who has worked closely with Trivedi on this study, told the Guardian that Trivedi believes that UCSD is the perfect place to conduct a study like this because it is a “microcosm of a city, and it is a good idea if you are going to start doing such testing to do it in a confined area,” but it is still important to approach this study “very carefully and very slowly.”

According to Albert Pisano, the Dean of Engineering at UCSD, it is important to continue studies such as these on the UCSD campus.

“First, it is just good research that helps us learn more about how people and machines interact,”  Pisano said. “Second, there is a lot of work being done in autonomous vehicles and how machines and people would share the road. Third, there is a very useful set of data for autonomous vehicle manufacturers to be aware of.”

The self-driving car study is one way for students to participate in the research that goes on at UCSD. Christensen mentioned that there are various opportunities for undergraduates to be involved, whether it be research on vehicles or building better vehicles.

Pisano added, “For all students involved in robotics or human machine interfaces or computer science, this study is very valuable and useful for their academic careers and research projects.”

UCSD’s engineering department also has other studies it is conducting aside from the self-driving car study. Studies involve human machine interfaces and robots being used to teach children.

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