Driverless cart motors on after hiccup

Top News | Sophie Hui 31 Oct 2017

A local university making inroads in developing driverless cars suffered an awkward glitch in yesterday's presentation.

Engineering students at the Robotics Institute of the University of Science and Technology publicly unveiled their unmanned golf cart.

The vehicle drove HKUST president Tony Chan Fan-cheong, who was at the back seat, for a few minutes in a car park on the Clearwater Bay campus.

The golf cart boasts functions that include obstacle avoidance, mapping and navigation.

But during the media briefing it ran out of power and had to be pushed manually. It resumed driving a few minutes later.

The eight-member team of students and research assistants developed a computer and a central processing unit to control the vehicle.

Two laser sensors were installed - one on top for mapping routes and the other in front of the steering wheel, which is able to detect obstacles from one to 75 meters, even in the dark.

Team supervisor Liu Ming, assistant professor in the department of electronic and computer engineering, said Hong Kong is suitable for autonomous driving as road conditions are good and drivers generally follow traffic rules.

"We believe this is the starting point for a new generation of unmanned vehicles that will save manpower and enhance safety," Liu said.

The team hopes to test the technology on passenger cars. Liu said current Hong Kong laws do not allow them to test it on a private car, so they tried it on a golf cart.

The golf cart is powered by a battery that takes two to three hours to be fully charged. It can run at 20 kilometers an hour and go for 40 to 60 kilometers before recharging.

Du Xiaoguo, 24, a PhD student in the department who helped create the vehicle, said the team will improve the golf cart's look as well as increase its location accuracy and make it drive in reverse.

The team started the project in late August, spending less than HK$150,000, including HK$70,000 for the cart.

Liu said the team only spent a few weeks to assemble the vehicle, one of 11 projects showcased at yesterday's HKUST Robotics Day.

Other projects included smart manufacturing production lines, a robotic chess player and virtual personalities that can analyze emotions and personality or conduct therapy.

Michael Wang Yu, director of the Robotics Institute, hopes the government can provide support, including designating areas for testing.

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