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Self-driving tricycle could start a transportation transformation

UW students hope to change the world with three wheels
Credit: KingTV

The solution to Seattle's traffic troubles may be rolling around a soccer field in Bothell.

"If we can make downtown have no traffic jams ever again?  I think a lotta people would be interested in living in a world like that," says UW computer engineering major Ben Rockhold.

Ben and classmates Taylor and Alex are perfecting a tricycle...that drives itself. They plug in a laptop to the back of what looks like any other recumbent three-wheeler to load it with instructions. Five seconds after they unplug it, off it goes, on its own, performing a zigzag pattern.

While autonomous cars make their way onto our streets, UW Bothell Professor Dr. Tyler Folsom says his students want to make a big impact by going small.

"Doesn't have to be 4000 pounds of steel. It can be efficient. And we can move people in the city with less energy and less congestion," says Folsom.

Rockhold says it's not intended to replace cars.

"Obviously it's not gonna have the same utility as an SUV going bouldering and it's not gonna carry your small class of children in a minivan. But for a person making a commute or a run to the grocery store? It's more than adequate," he says.

And fewer cars on the road mean fewer accidents.

A tricycle uses 30 times less energy than a car, Folsom says, as it weighs around 30 pounds, not thousands.

"Autonomous vehicles seem like a really cool way to improve the world. And I wanted to work on it. Even in some tiny way," says Rockhold.

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