uc san diego

UC San Diego Rolls Out Self-Driving Mail Delivery Cars

Right now, UC San Diego is using two self-driving cars to deliver mail to 13 stops across Warren and Sixth College

NBCUniversal, Inc.

These days, getting your snail mail at the University of California San Diego is pretty high-tech.

For months, UC San Diego has been using self-driving cars to deliver mail on campus.

Here’s how it works: each morning, the car -- which has seating for four -- is loaded up with mail. The car’s computer is programmed with the information that tells it where to go. Then – as a safety precaution – a driver hops on board, just in case anything goes wrong.

The self-driving car makes 13 stops across two of the six residential colleges on campus, Warren and Sixth College.

According to the UC San Diego News Center, the cars are equipped with cameras and sensors but according to UC San Diego, the algorithms set by the computer program that controls the cars is what makes it possible for the car to share the road with other vehicles and obey the rules of the road.

“We actually follow the law, because we programmed it so it follows the law,” explained Henrik Christensen, director of the UC San Diego Contextual Robotics Institute. “So, it actually stops at a stop line. In California, we don't stop at stop lines! So, people have been honking at it, and giving us all sorts of bodily gestures.”

While the university only has two of these mail delivery cars right now, it hopes to have a fleet in the future that will help tackle parking and traffic issues on the campus, which is home to about 65,000 students, faculty and staff.

Robotics programmers are looking at how else to use the cars in the future, like in urban environments where you find pedestrians, bicycles, and other types of traffic.

But according to Henrik Christensen, director of the UC San Diego Contextual Robotics Institute, there are some challenges to overcome.

“Our biggest challenge is that we have a number of people on campus that will have their cell phone and they're walking like this (with their heads down), you know and it's very hard,” Christensen told NBC 7.

UC San Diego said the driverless mail delivery cars are part of a broader effort to use the campus as a lab for new technologies. The university said it hopes that one day the self-driving cars will be used to give people rides around the sprawling La Jolla campus.

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