Ford and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are now collaborating on a new research project that gauges how pedestrians move in urban areas to enhance certain public transportation services for rides-hailing and point-to-point shuttle services.
The project is designed to launch a fleet of on-demand electric vehicle shuttles that operate on both city roads and campus walkways on the university’s campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The vehicles utilize LiDAR sensors and cameras to gauge pedestrian flow, which eventually helps forecast demand for the shuttles. This enables researchers and drivers to route shuttles toward areas with the highest demand to better accommodate riders.
In a statement, Ford Research and Advanced Engineering vice president Ken Washington said that the onboard sensors and cameras collect pedestrian data to estimate foot traffic flow. He explained that this helps them develop efficient algorithms that bring together pertinent data. “It improves mobility-on-demand services, and aids ongoing pedestrian detection and mapping efforts for autonomous vehicle research.”
The MIT research is being carried out by the Aeronautics and Astronautics Department’s Aerospace Controls Lab. ACL explores topics related to autonomous systems and control design for spacecraft, aircraft, and ground vehicles.
According to ACL director Professor Jonathan How, through the mobility-on-demand system being developed for MIT’s campus, ACL can look into new planning and prediction algorithms in an intricate, but controlled, environment while simultaneously offering a testbed framework for researchers and a service to the MIT community.
Ford and MIT researchers intend to roll out the service to a group of students and faculty starting in September. This group will utilize a mobile application to hail one of three electric urban vehicles to their location and request to be dropped off at another destination on campus.
The EVs are small enough to be able to navigate the campus’ sidewalks while leaving adequate room for pedestrian traffic. Each comes outfitted with weatherproof enclosures that shield out extreme weather–a feature that is specifically useful for New England’s winters.
By simply requesting the shuttles through a smartphone app, MIT students and faculty no longer have to wait long for their ride to arrive.
During the past five months, Ford and MIT have employed LiDAR sensors and cameras mounted to the vehicles to document pedestrian flow between various points on campus. LiDAR is said to be the most efficient way to spot and localize objects from the environment that surrounds the shuttles. The technology is also claimed more accurate than GPS, giving off short pulses of laser light to accurately pinpoint the vehicle’s location on a map and spot the movement of nearby objects and pedestrians.
Utilizing this data, the research team studies the overall pattern of how pedestrian traffic moves across the campus, which enables them to predict where the most demand for the shuttles will be at any given moment. This enables the shuttles to be carefully pre-positioned and routed to serve the MIT population as efficiently as possible.
Moreover, the research team considers other factors that affect pedestrian movement on MIT’s campus, such as varying class schedules, conditions, and the dynamic habits of students and professors across different semesters.
This partnership further improves Ford’s Dynamic Shuttle project, which offers point-to-point shuttle rides to employees requesting rides utilizing a mobile application on its Dearborn, Michigan campus. It also advances the ride-handling concept to new heights by examining the movement of pedestrians to forecast demand and reduce wait times for the shuttles.
Furthermore, the algorithms and methods learned when navigating densely crowded pedestrian areas utilizing LiDAR will also reinforce Ford’s autonomous and driver assist technologies as the company continuously develops self-driving vehicles.
The project is just one of over 30 mobility solutions university research projects between Ford and universities in the USA, China and Germany, targeted at helping the company and academic world better comprehend the ways on how to enhance mobility for millions of people worldwide.
For the American automaker, university research collaborations are a critical part of its broader effort to change the way the world moves.
Hamid Moaref has always been fascinated by cars and the automotive industry. His family has a longstanding association with the industry and has been in the tire business for the past 35 years. Raised in Dubai, Hamid attended Capilano University in Vancouver where he graduated with a BBA in marketing before attending an intensive course in magazine publishing in 2005. He has been the publisher and chief editor of Tires & Parts magazine for the past ten years.
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