Want to build a self-driving vehicle? Apparently all you need is $10,000, a golf cart, and a dream.

Although it might not hurt to also have the engineering smarts of Michael Skupien and Alex Rodrigues.

In less than a year, the two University of Waterloo students came up with the idea for an autonomous vehicle, and saw it through to completion.

The first prototype from Varden Labs, a modified golf cart, made its way around the Waterloo campus Tuesday, ferrying school president Feridun Hamdullahpur on its maiden voyage.

They say it’s the first automated vehicle to travel on a public roadway anywhere in Canada.

self-driving golf cart

Michael Skupien and Alex Rodrigues of Varden Labs take their self-driving vehicle on a test run at the University of Waterloo on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015. (Max Wark / CTV Kitchener)

“We didn’t really have too many hiccups, and that’s why we were able to achieve a working project so quickly,” Skupien said in an interview.

The prototype involves two computer systems working in concert – one which controls the vehicle’s wheels, and one which determines whether it should go or stop.

That information is fed in via a combination of sensors monitoring objects around the vehicle and a GPS system that can determine the vehicle’s position within two centimetres of accuracy.

Self-driving cars have made plenty of headlines in recent months, with Google testing one out on the streets of California.

Apple, Tesla and many major automakers are also working on prototypes of their own.

Skupien and Rodrigues don’t plan to compete with those industry giants in the consumer world.

Instead, they want to focus on shuttle services – low-speed vehicles on university campuses, resorts or large corporate properties.

“It’s safer, it’s able to be in a much more controlled environment, it’s able to avoid regulation, and for all those reasons we think it’s a great market,” said the 19-year-old Rodrigues.

Skupien sees automated vehicles as inevitable.

While potential passengers might have safety concerns, he expects companies developing such cars to change minds by releasing data from their safety tests.

“Once people actually see those safety numbers and compare them to a human driver … there’s no reason why they wouldn’t consider switching over,” he said.

“Autonomous vehicles … will save hundreds of thousands of lives.”

And should something go wrong?

It hasn’t happened often in testing, the creators say, and it didn’t happen on Tuesday’s tour of the campus – but in the event of an emergency, the vehicle can be moved over to manual control remotely, or by hitting its brake pedal, steering wheel or emergency stop.

Source: CTV News