UW Bothell faculty member’s self-driving bicycle idea boosted by Amazon

Team with test vehicle

News Release 
Oct. 17, 2016 
Contact Lisa Hall 425-352-5461 / lhall7@uw.edu 
UW Bothell faculty member’s self-driving bicycle idea boosted by Amazon
BOTHELL, Washington – At the University of Washington Bothell, Tyler Folsom is working to make sure bicycles are included in the movement toward self-driving vehicles. Photo: Front row, from left:  Jeremy Bobotek, Dylan Katz, Aaron Conrad. Back row: Shyawn Karim, Tyler Folsom, Chase Skelton, Pengfei (Peter) Zhu, Varsha Srivastava.

The affiliate professor in computing and software systems is leading a group of students installing electronics, batteries and mechanical gear on two former recumbent tricycles. The group is testing how the trikes can find their own way without direct human control.

The project took a step forward this summer when one vehicle executed a circle test by itself on a campus lawn. The effort to get autonomous tricycles rolling is ramping up with a $75,000 grant from Amazon Catalyst, an initiative by the Seattle-based online retailer and UW’s collaborative innovation hub CoMotion. The aim is to promote bold projects with global impact proposed by members of the University of Washington community

The Amazon grant enabled Folsom to hire five interns plus a visiting scholar from India, Shailja (who does not use a surname). She completed her electrical engineering degree last summer at the India Institute of Technology in Kharagpur where she worked on visual navigation for a mobile robot.
Another 15 students are volunteers or working on capstone projects, making more than 20 people pushing the self-driving bicycle idea at UW Bothell.

“Amazon’s backing has enabled me to attract a talented band of students,” says Folsom. “It gives me confidence that the quest for energy sustainability in transportation is more than a pipe dream.”

Self-driving bikes could have a global impact in several ways, says Folsom. Production models, using the minimum amount of computation power, would cost far less than a self-driving car. Widespread use could significantly improve safety and speed up local transportation in a city.

Small autonomous electric vehicles that can be recharged through solar or wind power might be used in public transportation, like a self-driving taxi system. Pushing transportation toward very light vehicles would give people a choice that could reduce climate change, says Folsom.

Read full story on UW Bothell website.

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