Self-driving vehicles are a hot topic at the moment, whether its Tesla cars with the Autopilot feature, Google’s Autonomous vehicles (aimed at car sharing) or Mercedes F 105 (at the more luxurious end of the spectrum). Now public transport is beginning to catch up to private vehicles, with the announcement that Finnish capital Helsinki is starting a one-month trial for self-driving buses.
Although the buses have been trialled before – in the Netherlands and a small Finnish town to the north of the capital – these trials were on closed roads. The Helsinki experiment, on public roads, the first of its kind in the world.
The buses in question are a pair of Easymile EZ-10 buses, which will carry up to 12 passengers along a pre-programmed route in Helsinki’s Hernesaari area, allowing the passengers to board and alight the buses at fixed locations along the route.
Harri Santamala, the road test’s project leader, said:
“Mostly, people have seen the press and aren’t surprised there’s a robot bus, but every once in a while we meet local people who haven’t heard about it. They don’t quite believe it. They’re asking, ‘Really? Is it possible that I can get in?’ We’re saying ‘Yes.’”
Finland is one of few countries in the world whose laws do not require that every vehicle on the country’s roads must contain a driver, resulting in Finland’s burgeoning popularity as a test location for autonomous vehicles. As Santamala explains, “We need to have human drivers, but the human doesn’t need to be physically in the vehicle. You can remotely supervise a fleet.”
As Santamala explains, “We need to have human drivers, but the human doesn’t need to be physically in the vehicle. You can remotely supervise a fleet.”
The Helsinki project, which began on 16th August, is coordinated by Helsinki’s Metropolia University of Applied Science, with the intention to understand how autonomous vehicles fare in real-world traffic. The Easymile buses are limited to an average speed of just 6mph (10 km/h) to minimise the risk as they share the open road with other cars and pedestrians for the first time.