Japanese retail company Muji has joined forces with Sensible 4, a Finnish autonomous vehicle maker, to create Gacha, a stylish new autonomous shuttle bus designed to handle a wide variety of different environmental conditions.

Autonomous vehicle technology is booming at the moment, with trials underway around the globe covering everything from self-navigating ships to robotic helicopter pilots. But perhaps the most activity, in terms of real world trials and applications, has been seen in the field of autonomous shuttle buses.

For several years we have seen a number of serious trials, and even permanent deployments, of self-driving buses. However, many autonomous vehicles have struggled to adapt to a variety of extreme weather conditions. Sensible 4, based in Finland, has been working to create functional autonomous systems that can safely operate in snow, fog and heavy rain.

"We are developing these vehicles so that they can become part of daily transportation service chain," explains Sensible 4 CEO Harri Santamala. "Autonomous vehicles can't become mainstream until their technology has been insured to work in all climates."

After testing its technology in arctic Lapland conditions Sensible 4 has now joined forces with a team of designers from Japanese retail giant Muji to produce an autonomous shuttle bus. Called Gacha, the self-driving electric vehicles will undergo trials in three cities in Finland across 2019, with a goal of deploying a commercial fleet sometime in 2020.

Muji is known for its sleek minimalist retail aesthetic, primarily designing low-cost household objects, although this isn't the first time the company has branched out into automotive design. Back in 2001 Muji joined forces with Nissan to build a cheap, non-branded, small car. The Muji Car 1000 was a limited edition experiment, and probably only of interest to those consumers with a deep-seated devotion to absolute minimalism.

The new Gacha design is another stylish, yet relentlessly minimalist design from Muji. The small autonomous shuttle bus has no primary front or back, and can hold 16 passengers, 10 sitting and six standing. The design is relatively similar looking to some other small shuttles being trialed right now, but with a slightly more stylish, pod-like aesthetic.

"MUJI proposes a pleasant life," the two companies claim in a media statement. "This not only covers products for daily life but also the challenges faced by different communities."

The Gacha bus will make its public debut in March 2019 in Helsinki.

Source: Sensible 4

View gallery - 3 images