Autonomous cars are the hot topic in the transportation world right now, as evidenced by Volvo, Mercedes-Benz and Google rushing head-first into implementing the tech. However, self-driving cars aren’t the be-all and end-all of piloted driving. Buses, too, will benefit from leaps forward in driverless technology.
Proving that point, CarPostal, the company leading public transportation in Switzerland, is launching a two-year autonomous bus pilot program in the tourist areas of Sion, Valais. The test-run will be operated by Swiss startup BestMile, which has developed software to “control fleets of autonomous vehicles in the same way a control tower does in an airport,” according to a company press release.
Starting in spring 2016, the small fleet of nine electrified passenger buses will troll the streets of old-town Sion and autonomously transport residents and tourists through the city. The goal of the pilot program is to prove the viability of widespread autonomous public transportation, as it offers lower costs and “minimum risk.” Ultimately, CarPostal would like to extend autonomous bus service into remote areas of the country.
Rest assured, Swiss commuters, BestMile isn’t rolling into this project blind. Before the announced Sion pilot program, BestMile spent two years creating a new generation of mathematical algorithms in order for autonomous vehicles to recognize and react to whatever scenarios they might encounter, as they interact with the existing public transportation system.
Until this point, America and Sweden had stood out as global early adopters of autonomous vehicle technology. Several American states — including Michigan, Nevada, Florida and California — have granted companies autonomous driving permits. And Gothenburg, Sweden has green-lit Volvo’s “Drive Me” program that will put 100 self-driving XC90 SUVs on public roads in 2017.
It will be interesting to see how residents and visitors of Sion react to the autonomous buses. Likely, after the initial awkward stage, people will forget altogether that there’s no one driving the bus. And it’s that tacit trust that could lead to widespread acceptance of self-driving vehicles.