Autonomous Shuttles at Western Michigan University

The future is now at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

In the photo above, Michigan Lt. Gov Garlin Gilchrist and Department of Transportation administrator, Jean Ruestman are seated in an automated shuttle developed at Western Michigan University with engineering firm Pratt and Miller.

One of the most important 21st-century workplace skills is the ability to collaborate effectively on a team. This research at Western Michigan University is a perfect example of how essential this skill is in solving real-world problems.

Nick Goberville, a mechanical engineering doctoral student, and Johan Rojas, a mechanical engineering master’s student, are helping to coordinate and carry out this multimillion-dollar project.

“We’re working on the modeling simulation of the autonomous vehicles,” says Rojas. “We helped with the mapping, the cost value analysis and with everything needed to make the pilot possible here at Western.”

Goberville and Rojas are conducting the research under the guidance of Dr. Zach Asher, assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering and director of WMU’s Modeling, Control and Optimization Laboratory.

The team also brought in Western Michigan University student Travis Waker, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, to help advise the team on making the shuttles accessible.

“I think people with disabilities need as much access to things as anyone, and this would be a huge step,” says Waker, a Howell native in WMU’s counseling psychology graduate program. “I think self-driving/autonomous vehicles are just the beginning of an easier future for people with disabilities and people in general. I really admire the work the engineers are doing at Western, and I’m really glad I can contribute.”

The team also consulted with Western Michigan University student Taylor Arndt, who has vision challenges, to help make the stops accessible as well.

Both students are excited by the prospect of relying on friends less and becoming more fully independent for their transportation needs.

I am impressed by the collaborative nature of this research and the team’s dedication to inclusivity and access.

This article, by Erin Flynn is another inspiring example of using the power of technology, research, and collaboration to make the world a better place.

Questions for Discussion

  1. What problem is this research trying to solve?
  2. Describe how the team is demonstrating the important skill of collaboration?
  3. How does this research demonstrate inclusivity?
  4. What features does an autonomous vehicle need to have to be accessible for individuals who are differently-abled?

 

For the full article by Erin Flynn at the Western Michigan University website, please click here.

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