The Future of Public Transportation – Driverless Buses

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Technology is constantly changing how we think about transportation. Improvements can already be seen in modern buses: adjustable seats, lighting, automatic announcements and ticket validation systems. This article will explore the latest developments in driverless technology and how they will affect public transportation. The future application of driverless technology is still open, and there are several possibilities to explore. Learn more about how cities all over the world are improving their public transportation systems in the near future.

Developing Driverless Buses

The concept of a driverless bus was not developed overnight. One of the first driverless buses, manufactured by Chinese company Yutong, took three years to create and is still in testing phase. Other companies like Robosoft and EasyMile are following the trend, working on creating more practical and efficient uses of the technology. Yutong’s bus is already able to complete a 32 km route successfully. The vehicle is able to change lanes, obey traffic lights and follow regular traffic without human assistance. It’s top speed is 68 km/h, so there is still some room for improvement. Developing buses in other parts of the world also have different challenges. CityMobil2 buses, for example, are hoping to appear in Greece soon. During the trial phases of development, companies noticed that Greece is a very unique country to drive in. Streets can be very narrow and have many hills. Obstacles like stray dogs and bicycle riders are also common in the cities, so driverless technology cannot be guided by GPS alone. 

Where Driverless Technology is Being Used

While CityMobil2 is currently being tested in Trikala, Greece, several cities are already incorporating driverless technology into their transportation systems. Lausanne, Switzerland was one of the first places to test and receive a driverless shuttle bus. The six-month trial resulted in no incidents and included six of these dedicated shuttles. Used at EPFL University, the shuttle successfully picked up students and faculty from the local station and dropped them off at various points around the campus. WEPods are also being introduced in Wageningen, Netherlands. Featuring a smaller version of EasyMile’s EZ10 bus, these small shuttles will take passengers to Ede. This short, 17-minute drive will take place completely on public roads, making it the first of its kind. The UK is getting an even smaller version of the driverless vehicle. In Milton Keynes, LUTZ Pathfinders are being used in a similar way to the now abandoned model from the United Arab Emirates. These public vehicles seat two and travel along the city streets. While the system isn’t fully in place, engineers are hoping to have the vehicles fully tested and in use by 2018. Robot buses are even expected to start appearing in the United States as early as next year. In 2016, Northern California will be the first area to receive driverless buses. Development plans include a fleet of two EZ10 pods to help decrease traffic in Bishop Ranch, San Ramon.

The Benefits of Driverless Buses

The biggest goal of driverless bus manufacturers is to decrease oil consumption in the cities. By incorporating buses like the EZ10, more people will be able to use public transportation. The vehicles promote efficiency and potentially eliminate many human errors, which make them a faster and safer alternative to traditional options. While most of the driverless bus designs feature six or less seats, they will be able to service dozens of people every hour. Some may argue that the limited seating is problematic, especially for large groups of people; however, most of the cities incorporating the technology are investing in multiple vehicles. Testing has also improved many of the features found on the buses. The EZ10, for example, is fully electric and can be charged in as little as eight hours. While the EZ10 is designed to be a slow moving bus, it requires no special infrastructure to keep it moving. Because of safety concerns, anti-hacking technology is also incorporated into the vehicle, keeping it on its predefined route at all times. In cities where the driverless buses are being incorporated into public streets, riders also receive another benefit: no fares, since most of the technology is in prototype phase and receives government funding. While the technology could incorporate a fare system, most of the manufacturers are not using one. This speeds up the pick-up process and makes the transportation an option for everyone. 

Concerns for Robot Buses

There are a couple of concerns that need to be addressed before robot buses can become commonplace. The first is safety. While companies are working to develop more sensors and movement prediction devices for their vehicles, people still question response time. During testing, however, crashes were nonexistent. While the lack of a bus driver may be unsettling, there is still a human element to the vehicle. Security cameras are implemented in the bus that send feeds to manned stations. This helps to give the riders extra protection. The other concern that many people have is how driverless buses will affect the jobs of current drivers. While these specialized buses may not need drivers in them, there are still positions that need to be filled in order to keep them operating. The buses need to be charged, cleaned and maintained. Robot buses are also being introduced in phases, so manned buses will still be commonplace for at least another decade.

The Future of Driverless Technology

There are several exciting possibilities when it comes to incorporating driverless technology into public transportation. Improved features can help passengers feel safe and comfortable as they travel. Automatic technology can also improve efficiency, helping people arrive to their destinations much faster. As testing continues around the world, we can anticipate more improvements.


Matthew Young is a Boston-based freelance writer. As an aspiring automotive journalist looking to make a name for myself in the industry, he is passionate about covering anything on four wheels. When Matthew is not busy writing about cars or new emerging tech, he usually spends time fiddling with his camera and learning a thing or two about photography. You can tweet him @mattbeardyoung.

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