Automotive

Autonomous buses hit the road in Switzerland

Two autonomous buses will follow a route along the edge of the city of 33,000 residents and pass through pedestrian areas
Two autonomous buses will follow a route along the edge of the city of 33,000 residents and pass through pedestrian areas
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Two autonomous buses will follow a route along the edge of the city of 33,000 residents and pass through pedestrian areas
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Two autonomous buses will follow a route along the edge of the city of 33,000 residents and pass through pedestrian areas

Switzerland has joined a growing number of places around the world exploring the potential of electric autonomous buses, with a pair of driverless shuttles now ferrying passengers around the city of Sion as part of a two-year trial.

Other autonomous buses being tested out across the globe include the EZ10 in California and Singapore, the Navia also in Singapore, and the IBM-powered Olli in Washington DC that can even talk to its passengers en route.

Much like these projects, Switzerland's buses will take to public roads with local regulators eying a wider deployment of low-carbon, autonomous mass transport. The vehicles will be operated by Switzerland's leading public bus operator, PostBus, and will navigate Sion's city streets using software developed by startup BestMile, which spin out of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL).

The buses have been fitted with air conditioning, a backup battery, an access ramp for the disabled and are capable of carrying 11 passengers at a time, who will ride free of charge. The two vehicles will follow a route along the edge of the city of 33,000 residents and pass through pedestrian areas, but they won't exactly be humming along, traveling only at a top speed of 20 km/h (12 mph).

An attendant will go along for the ride in the interests of safety, but the buses will be controlled remotely by an operator using BestMile's autonomous driving software. Researchers from the EPFL's Urban Transport Systems Laboratory are collaborating on the two-year project, with the aim of building a system that manages fleets of autonomous vehicles.

This will involve developing algorithms that enable the buses to communicate with one another and other vehicles on the road, along with accomodating the needs of passengers through on-demand services, such as booking rides in advance and adjusting for flexible routes. Eventually, the researchers say the technology will need to be able to handle these tasks in real time.

Source: EPFL

2 comments
habakak
This is the rub. If we can start to build autonomous vehicles that travel on public roads and interact with pedestrians, etc. why can't trains that travel on a SET PATH??? Especially subways? There are no pedestrian issues to speak off and very few intersections or traffic signals/lights. How could this not have been automated a long time ago. I can only think the issues are way less and easier to negotiate than a free-roaming car surrounded by all sorts of stationary and moving objects.
Chizzy
@habakak The Victoria Line at the London Underground has been automated since its opening in 1967. A great many subway lines all over the world are automated. Most of the others are scheduled for upgrade and automation in the next 10-15 years, but upgrading can be quite expensive, but every year the price for automation comes down. In some cases the automation upgrade happens as easily as installing new cars on the line (simple yet still expensive), in other cases it takes upgrading sensors and switches on the line first, which complicates it making it more expensive. In the US city bus systems used to get federal money every 12 years to get new buses. So we could expect to see roll out of city wide automated fleets in the next 12 years. Unfortunately in the US funding is increasingly more difficult to get so many US cities are discovering that they can run their buses longer than the projected 12 years, 250k miles. Sydney Australia counts on getting 23 years of life out of each bus. Poorer countries use them until they literally disintegrate. Meanwhile subway cars like the original 1968 BART system are still running. The San Francisco Embarcadero route still uses the historic circa 1900 cable cars. As long as there is useful life upgrading to an automated system increases capital costs, which fixed transport like subways and trains amortize over their projected life.
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