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Self-driving mobility scooter on trial here

My Paper | Zhaki Abdullah | Friday, Nov 18, 2016

National University of Singapore (NUS), where the self-driving mobility scooter is being tested.

Photo: The Straits Times

You could soon book a self-driving mobility scooter to take you around Changi Airport and shopping malls here.

The brainchild of the Singapore-based Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (Smart) was developed by a team of four over a period of two months beginning in February this year.

The personal mobility device, which weighs about 50kg and has a top speed of 6kmh, made its debut in April, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States for the university's 100th anniversary.

The device can be used in both indoor and outdoor environments.

It slows down when it detects obstacles up to 2.5m in front of it and has a 0.2 second response time to such obstructions.

It is now being tested within the University Town area at the National University of Singapore (NUS).

The team has also tested the scooter at several housing estates such as Sembawang and Queenstown.

Marcelo Ang, co-principal investigator at Smart, said several organisations have expressed interest in the device.

He noted that it could be used at shopping malls and airports, adding that the scooter would be the most beneficial to those who are visually-impaired as well as the elderly, who might not be so comfortable using existing scooters that have to be driven.

While it would now cost around $15,000 to retrofit an existing mobility scooter to be autonomous, Dr Ang forsees that the cost could drop to just "hundreds of dollars" once the technology becomes more widely available.

Dr Ang, who is also acting director of the Advanced Robotics Centre in NUS, said the device could provide what he termed as a "last last-mile solution".

"It can provide seamless travel, you can book it to take you from your doorstep to a pick-up point where you can take a driverless car to a train station," he added.

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