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Sacramento State Students Ride In Self-Driving Shuttle To Get To Class

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Brandon Moak, co-founder of Varden Labs, brings four seat electric self-driving car to Sac State campus to demonstrate the technology.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

A new self-driving car is shuffling students around the Sacramento State campus. 

The all-electric self-driving shuttle is just a tad bigger than a golf cart, with four seats.

Brandon Moak takes what would normally be the driver’s seat, except that he’s not driving. He’s co-founder of Varden Labs, a Canadian company showcasing the new technology. Between the two front seats is a joystick with buttons that trigger the system.

“I hold down the trigger I’m telling the system that it’s allowed to drive itself. So just press it down and we’ll be off,” says Moak.

Unlike the Google autonomous car, this car doesn’t figure out its own path. Moak programmed the route and the stops – in this case from the campus book store to another building less than a mile away.

A computer monitor displays any object that comes in the car’s path using lidar technology.  

“If we get another person to step in our way here, they’ll show up as a black dot up there and the vehicle will come to a stop if it gets in its way,” says Moak.

As a skateboarder passes in the shuttle's path, the car slows down. So far, it’s not had any accidents. 

“We call this vehicle Alvin actually and Alvin’s been very cooperative,” says Moak.

Student Steven Moreno was one of the first to get a ride from Alvin. In his words it was “pretty cool.”

“I just walked out of my class and …they’re like ‘hey, you want to take a ride in a self-driving vehicle? I was like you, don’t get to do that every day,” says Moreno.

Maybe someday. That’s the goal. Right now it’s just a demonstration. But Moak believes in the technology so much, he and Varden Labs co-founders dropped out of school to develop the car.

“We think this type of technology is revolutionary,"says Moak."It’s going to change the transportation industry very much in the next five to ten years, and we just wanted to be a part of it,” says Moak.

Developers want to see how people interact with the car. It will be displayed at other college campuses in California.