By Yiming Woo
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Researchers in Singapore have come up with a solution to curb accidents involving phone-obsessed walkers, a self-driving mobility scooter that drives single pedestrians along footpaths.
The one-seater, four wheel, 50 kg (110 lbs) vehicle travels at a top speed of 6 kmh (4 mph) and has laser sensors to help navigate around obstacles.
The scooter, developed by the National University of Singapore (NUS), is the city-state's latest experiment with driverless vehicles as it pushes ahead with its vision of using autonomous technology to help deal with the challenges of its limited land and labor.
The scooter has undergone successful tests on campus and developers said it can help improve mobility for all ages, cut down on the need for cars and also lower accident rates.
"I'm sure you have experienced people who just use their handphone while walking, and almost run into you ... so it would be nice if you are just sitting down and checking your emails," said NUS Associate Professor and project leader Marcelo Ang Jr.
"We just give you more choices."
Ang Jr said that the scooter would be able to work in tandem with other driverless vehicles in Singapore, where robo-taxis are being tested and trials are planned for self-driving buses.
He said the scooter was meant for use on narrow pathways which larger vehicles cannot access.
Currently the scooter takes a few seconds to calibrate a different route when it nears an obstacle - something Ang Jr. said the team was looking to improve.
Users, though, did not seem too bothered by the brief pause.
"It goes really smoothly and travels very safely," said student Kevin Xiangyu Hui, who tested the scooter.
The project, a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), and NUS will be further tested and is not for sale.
(Editing by Marius Zaharia/Patrick Johnston; Editing by Michael Perry)