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UWA sets benchmark with student-designed driverless bus

The University of WA has joined the mining industry and tech giants such as Apple and Uber in developing autonomous vehicles by becoming the first uni in Australia to introduce a driverless bus designed by students.

A six-month trial of the nUWAy bus started on the UWA campus today, picking up students along a 500m stretch of road from the Reid Library to the university’s business school.

It is the culmination of 18 months of research led by Professor Thomas Braunl and students from the UWA School of Engineering’s Renewable Energy Project.

The team acquired the shuttle bus as a shell without any software and engineering students added hardware extensions and a full software stack to operate the vehicle.

The driverless bus is actually the uni’s third autonomous vehicle after previous conversions of a BMW X5 and a Formula-SAE race car.

When one thinks of a driverless bus cruising around a crowded uni campus, the obvious question must be asked: How does it avoid hitting students?

“That’s a very good question,” software engineering student Jai Castle said.

The 20-year-old is one of 10 students who worked on the bus and said there were a significant number of safety measures in place.

“It has sensors all around it including Lidar sensors, which are light-ranging sensors that can detect the objects around it — including people — and can tell how far away things are,” Castle said.

While most commercial autonomous shuttles can only follow a fixed pre-programmed path and cannot deviate, nUWAy can calculate its path to any point on campus.

While there are other autonomous buses in use across the world, including a long-running driverless bus trial in WA by the RAC, the nUWAy vehicle is a little different.

“The shuttle bus has unique characteristics,” Professor Braunl said.

“While most commercial autonomous shuttles can only follow a fixed pre-programmed path and cannot deviate, nUWAy can calculate its path to any point on campus.

“It is able to drive around obstacles, where it is safe to do so.”

As long as the bus makes a stop at the pub, uni students are sure to get aboard the autonomous vehicle trend.

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