UW Bothell student engineers building self-driving tricycle

Student engineers from the University of Washington Bothell campus are building an autonomous tricycle. (KOMO)

BOTHELL, Wash. (KOMO) - On April Fools' Day, Google put out a video that showed off a prototype of a self-driving bicycle. It was very funny and very fake.

But there's nothing funny about what a team of student engineers at the University of Washington Bothell campus is building - an autonomous tricycle.

"Just plug in a route, you could be hands-off, you could be working, you could be texting," said Jeremy Bobotek, a senior studying computer software and one of the project's designers. "Humans wouldn't have to be in control."

Despite some public skepticism about the reality and reliability of autonomous vehicles, nearly every car manufacturer has some form of self-driving vehicle in production or in the design phase.

But the UW students and their faculty adviser believe there is a market for smaller, lighter-weight, self-driving commuter vehicles like bikes and trikes.

"We assume this thing is going to be driving on a lane where there are just other automated vehicles and not a lot of other stuff happening," says Tyler Folsom, University of Washington Bothell affiliate professor and project lead. "That allows us to get rid of the expensive sensor systems, because it will follow where autonomous cars are already going."

It's a big assumption. By letting the Googles of the world develop mapping software for autonomous cars to follow, UW's team believes it can piggyback on that technology for its trikes to navigate traffic.

Their goal is to develop a self-driving trike with a protective cover that can go roughly 30 miles an hour and 15 miles on a charge for about $10,000.

"You can get a person's commute done with about 15 pounds of battery with a much lighter vehicle," said Bobotek.

Bobotek also sees the trikes operating like a network of autonomous taxis.

"You can make them so they can network, you can basically have a fleet of vehicles," says Bobotek. “They can pick people up, drive them to their destination, go back to base, change out the batteries, go back out."

While a self-driving bike may be an April Fools' joke for Google, the dreamers at UW Bothell hope to have the last laugh.

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