Navya Arma: A glimpse into the boring, utilitarian self-driving future

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Navya Arma: a glimpse into the not-so-exciting future of autonomous vehicles(Credit: Navya)

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This autonomous French shuttle bus is already on sale, and deployed on a number of geofenced sites including a 220-hectare EDF power plant in Civaux. Fully electric and capable of operating like a set-route bus or an on-demand taxi, the Navya Arma carries 15 people at a top speed up to 45 km/h. It's also undergoing road testing. Efficient, useful, slow and unexciting, it's much like what we can expect when self-driving cars hit the roads en masse.

The writing is on the wall: self-driving cars will swarm our roads within the next couple of decades. They'll be cheaper, safer, more efficient. Our grandchildren – heck, even our children – will probably never learn to drive if they live in an urban environment.

While it's fun to think about in a futurism sense, there will be little excitement where the real change happens. Autonomous vehicles will, by their nature, be boring. For the most part they'll have utilitarian looks. They'll be quiet and electric, they'll be slow and conservative drivers. They'll basically be a more personal version of public transport.

Like this thing, for example. Navya, the French manufacturer of the Arma, says it's the first fully autonomous vehicle system that's actually available to buy right now.

Arma is a 15-seat self-driving shuttle bus that can be programmed to do all sorts of short trips, primarily within a geo-fenced area and off the open road. It can be rolled out fairly quickly, as it doesn't require any specific infrastructure beyond an inductive charging station.

Arma sees and senses its environment using GPS, LiDAR and stereo cameras, so it can avoid static and dynamic obstacles as it moseys its way along between a set of pre-programmed pick-up, drop-off and charging points on a shift that can last between 5 and 13 hours. Passengers get in, hit a destination, then sit and wait as the Arma decides on the best way to get there.

You can set them up to work like buses, where the route is set, or like taxis, where they can be called from various locations as needed.

It's already in use at several sites. Most notably half a dozen of them are shuttling workers and visitors around the 220 hectare site of the EDF power plant in Civaux, where door-to-door trips between offices can be up to 2.5 km (1.6 mi). They circulate every 5 minutes, replacing a diesel bus that used to get around once every 15, and EDF estimates that they'll get as much as 3 million euros' worth of extra productivity from its workforce thanks to the waiting time being cut down.

Check out the video below:

Arma is not designed to be fast. Its maximum speed is just 45 km/h (28 mph), and I suspect most sites will restrict that even lower if there's any pedestrians around. Instead it's designed to be useful. And in that sense, it seems to have nailed its early design targets.

Some on-road testing is underway in France, suggesting that Arma will likely be ready for road rollout once a technological and legal framework is in place for driverless vehicles.

Source: Navya Arma

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