The University of Michigan plans to test low-speed, 3-D printed driverless carts within the year and eventually deploy them on its North Campus.
The university on Thursday received a custom, 3-D printed “SmartCart” from Local Motors, a Phoenix-based manufacturing company that built a working 3-D car at the 2015 North American International Auto Show.
U-M plans to study three such vehicles at its Mcity test site, a 32-acre autonomous and connected-vehicle proving grounds that’s operated by the Mobility Transformation Center public/private partnership. Mcity will host a grand opening event July 20.
If testing goes well, U-M will launch the driverless carts on its North Campus where they could develop into a driverless transit system that takes students, professors and staff to class, labs and offices. The university plans to develop a phone app that would let users request rides.
“Think Uber, but with low-speed, autonomous cars,” Edwin Olson, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science who leads the project, said in a statement. “The goal of SmartCarts is for us to begin understanding the challenges of a transportation-on-demand system built around autonomous cars.”
U-M’s new vehicle has a powertrain from a traditional golf cart and a body printed out of Lego brick plastic that’s reinforced with fiber. If the university wants to make changes to the vehicle, Local Motors can print a new component in a matter of hours.
The carts will be one of a number of tests that take place daily at Mcity, according to Jim Sayer, a research scientist at the Transportation Research Institute.
The site includes about five lane-miles of roads with intersections, traffic signs and signals, sidewalks, benches, simulated buildings, street lights, and obstacles such as construction barriers.
About 14 companies — from automakers like Ford, GM and Toyota to suppliers and communications companies like Verizon — will test on the site. Sayer said the testing will take place in four-hour increments that companies must sign up for in advance.
“It’s a significant opportunity to be engaged in autonomous vehicle research,” Sayer said.