JMU tests out autonomous vehicle aimed to help retirement communities

JMU tests out autonomous vehicle aimed to help retirement communities
Photo courtesy WHSV (Source: WHSV)

HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) — Students and faculty at James Madison University are working on a project to benefit retirement communities by helping the elderly get around without the need of a driver.

In 2018, JMU Autonomous Cart (JACart) research group began a project with faculty and students from different majors with no prior experience of autonomous technology. The team retrofitted a golf cart to sense objects and drive a path on its own within 15 weeks.

In 2019, the group continued their work and was awarded a grant through the Jeffress Trust Awards Program in Interdisciplinary Research for the amount of $120,000.

On Wednesday, the research group tested out its second autonomous (AV) golf cart on the university’s campus in a fixed course. The cart uses computers, cameras and sensors to take a passenger to multiple destinations with just the command of the passenger’s voice.

Nathan Sprague, a faculty member with the program, said the group is trying to answer two key questions: How can machine learning models be used to extract relevant passenger information? And how should can (AV) user interfaces incorporate passenger monitoring data to provide safe and reliable mobility service for the elderly?

“The earliest deployments of completely autonomous systems are likely to be in these retirement communities because they’re these closed campuses with low speeds,” Sprague said. “So that actually solves a lot of the autonomy problems and makes them simpler and it’s a community that could really benefit from this technology.”

Sprague said the group is not looking to commercially sell the cart but to provide the research that will help another company in the future.

The project is also helping students begin to work with future technology.

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