With all the news going back and forth about Tesla’s latest autonomous software update, Google’s driverless cars, and even Apple’s iCar on the way, it’s easy to get lost in all the hype.
So let’s slow down a moment and look at a smaller-scale project on the way: self-driving buses.
No, we’re not quite to the point of double-decker tourist buses, but one company is using technology imported from France to test autonomous buses on American roads.
It’s called EZ10, and it’s already used in France, Finland, and soon Spain.
The bus is actually quite small, with a capacity of only ten people. Moreover, its route will be short, only driving people about a mile around the San Ramon, California Bishop Ranch business park.
In fact, the routes will be just around the park and intended mostly to get passengers to stops for other forms of public transportation, which could extend trips to nearby business districts and local hotspots.
Randell Iwasaki, executive director of another driverless vehicle tester, notes that this will save EZ10 riders “the hassle of driving and parking.”
EZ10, as I said, is already in use in a few other countries. One of its main uses is transport around theme parks.
With a small route on an uncrowded street, such as in a theme park or business park, the buses can be programed using GPS maps. And much like the driverless cars of today’s tech giants, the buses use sensors and cameras to identify and avoid obstacles.
These buses are actually much safer than those cars, in part because they do not have a human driver. Going at slower speeds, the sensors can more easily detect other vehicles and pedestrians than can an autonomous car speeding along the highway.
The caveats to driverless vehicles are still many; Google cars have been known to get into accidents with regular drivers who expected the car to disobey certain traffic laws, and Tesla’s latest upgrade to the Model S has had mixed reviews from those who assumed it meant they’d never have to focus on the road again.
But these kinds of testing grounds in theme and business parks could help those innovations become safer and more useful.
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