MTU students study self-driving vehicles in rural areas

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HOUGHTON– The Society of Automative Engineers and General Motors are welcoming students from across the nation this week for the third annual AutoDrive Challenge in Yuma, AZ.

Michigan Tech students, Kyla Valenti and Cameron Burke are part of the competition as part of a class project.

“I’m part of the Robotics System Enterprise and my project this semester was to aid in the creation of the social responsibility report,” said Burke.

The duo is one of eight teams in the competition with the focus self-driving vehicles and how they would affect certain areas. The students say that surveys on autonomous vehicles are usually taken place in urban areas, but they want to see how it would affect rural communities like Houghton County.

“It’s easier to implement an automonous vehicle in a big city where most of the traffic signs, the regulations are very well upkept,” said Burke.

The students surveyed 126 people from the area over the course of six days on demographics and basic information, transportation habits and needs and qualitative and open response.

They also held focus groups with 14 parents and 10 elderly people, those questions highlighted the environmental, economical and social impacts of having self driving cars in rural areas. 

The study showed that most people were neutral about the topics and surprisingly the elderly were more excited about the idea than the younger generation. Burke says that might be because the idea hasn’t really been introduced in the area.

“I hope they get a bigger picture of how autonomous vehicles could really impact rural areas. It’s a question a lot of people don’t think about,” said Burke. “The implications that you could actually apply to rural areas such as moving elderly people around from outside of town.”

The students concluded that a shared ownership system would be the best fit for the area to begin using self driving vehicles.

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