Meet The All-new Autonomous Public Transport Vehicles – Each With A Different Lesson

What Are The Advantages of Autonomous Vehicles?

Would you give up on your private car to commute through automated public transport? May be yes! The preference for fully autonomous public transport is actually increased compared to travelling alone.   

In fact, the desire (or need) to travel in automated public transport is not something new.  For instance, the fully autonomous Copenhagen Metro, established in 2002, witnessed a significant increase in the number of passengers. As per the Danish Transport Research Institute, a lot of users switched from other transportation modes to Metro. The Metro recorded an increase of up to 47% of bus passengers and 20% of the local train passengers, in the first two years. While the number of car drivers and bicyclists increased by up to 13% and 9%, respectively. 

Even today, the Metro Company conducts a regular survey to assess user satisfaction. The latest report reveals that 98% of the Metro travellers were either “happy” or “very happy” with the service.

There are many such examples that show autonomous public transportation is positively being accepted by citizens. And hence, a lot of companies are focusing on launching autonomous vehicles for public with innovative facilities. The read given next will take you through the discovery of three such initiatives! 

Gacha – The All-Weather Robot Bus 

While Helsinkians have already experienced how it feels like travelling in an autonomous minibus, there is one more coming. However, this one is different. 

Named as ‘Gacha’ the robot bus is claimed to be the first-ever fully-functioning electric autonomous shuttle for all-weather conditions. The vehicle boasts a minimalistic design by Japanese Retailer, Muji. Whereas, the driverless technology is the contribution from Finnish autonomous vehicle expert Sensible 4. 

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Specifications 

Gacha is capable of positioning, navigating and detecting obstacles in all weathers, regardless of the environmental conditions. This autonomous vehicle is 4.5 m in length, 2.4 m in width and 2.8 m in height. It offers a seating capacity of 10 and a standing capacity of 6 adults. Besides, it features a four-wheel-drive system that can enable speeds up to 40 km per hour. Although it is powered by electric current, offering a range of 100 km, it is equipped with wireless charging as an alternative. 

Furthermore, an LED light belt covers the Gacha’s body, comprising a combination of communication screens and headlights. The interior is designed to provide a comfortable seating arrangement for the passengers. In fact, the design intends to promote social gatherings. This is important for a place like Finland where remote communities don’t often get a chance to socialise  – due to extreme winters.  

A greater benefit of Gacha comes from the fact that it can operate in heavy rain, snow or fog. Until now many of the technologies are being developed to suit warmer climates. But according to Harri Santamala, CEO of Sensible 4, autonomous vehicles without a driver cannot become mainstream unless capable of operating in all climates. Sensible 4 has tested and validated its technology under the most extreme – arctic Lapland conditions. 

After following a few trials in the real traffic, Gacha will commercially roll out in 2020. Further, the company plans to develop autonomous shuttle bus fleets for mainstream use in 2021. 

How Did It Feel To Travel In A Driverless Bus? See Passenger Feedback 

Is It Safe To Introduce Autonomous Vehicles As A Public Transit?

In another pilot project launched by Smart Mobility projects of Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, passengers provided positive feedback. The robot bus attracted a good number of passengers for a first ride. 

Passengers were able to provide their feedback by filling a survey form, as part of the pilot. This survey revealed that most of the users were travelling in an autonomous bus for the first time. And almost all of them said that the ride felt safe and secure.

The pilot was successful in reaching a wide audience. People over the age of 60 were found to be more curious to participate. The main reasons for preferring a robot bus over other public transportation options were carrying heavy items and bad weather. The participants also felt that they could use the bus for their daily commute. 

The pilot shows that if such transport facilities are delivered to citizens, they would love to abandon their private vehicles. This is a strategic way of reducing carbon emissions in smart cities. 

The New Automated Metro In Shanghai – Expanding Territories 

The Shanghai Shentong Metro Group and Keolis Group entered a joint venture to introduce automated Shanghai Pudong International Airport Metro. The passenger rapid transit (PRT) systems connected two terminals and two satellite halls – situated 7.8 km apart. With the metro ready for operation, it will approximately transport 250,000 passengers each day. 

In 2017, Shanghai Airport Authority awarded the project to Shanghai Keolis for a period of 20 years. This is the second automated metro that is being operated through the Shanghai Keolis collaboration in China. 

Shanghai Pudong International Airport is the ninth busiest airport in the world, receiving 60 million passengers annually. Hence, with the expansion of two satellite halls, the city aims to address the growth in passenger numbers. As it is expected that the number will reach 80 million passengers. 

To unveil its specifications, the automated metro supports a communication-based control technology. This means that it can be operated at higher frequencies and speeds ensuring 100% safety – with or without a driver. 

Chinese manufacturer CRRC has designed the metro to provide train sets that are 94 metres long. And it can accommodate up to 800 passengers. The existing (first) automated metro operated by Shanghai Keolis has already carried 7.5 million passengers since 2018.  In particular, Keolis operates automated metro networks in France (Lille, Lyon and Rennes), the UK (London), India (Hyderabad) and Qatar (Doha). 

Further, the company disclosed that it will also be a part of the automated metro to be introduced at the Frankfurt airport terminals in Germany in 2023.  

An Automated Bus Roll Out With Back-Up 

The smart city of Singapore witnessed the first trial of an autonomous bus in August 2019. The trial was successful with the fact that ultimate precautions were taken. There were as many bus stewards as passengers. These ensured seatbelts were tightly fastened as the bus began its journey through roads that experience very little traffic. 

A major back up was that a driver watched over the self-rotating steering wheels all the time – ready to take control. Muhd Faiz Bin Ahmad, one of the autonomous buses’ safety drivers said that he has to look out for traffic and other dangers. He has to be extra careful as some drivers violate rules and they are not familiar with the workings of autonomous vehicles.

While a young 20-year old passenger said the experience was just as travelling on a normal bus. 

As per a recent KPMG report, the smart city of Singapore grabbed No.2 ranking in an index that assesses a region’s openness and preparedness for autonomous vehicles. 

Tech giants and automakers are closely watching the testing of the technology in Singapore. A race to build self-drive cars is on and is anticipated to bring a revolutionary change to personal transport.

Trials Are Nothing Without Risk Management

In 2016, a self-driving car was set to complete its first trial in Singapore. But as it began changing lanes, it collided with a truck. There were no fatal injuries though. 

But there have been a few incidents where self-driving cars have resulted in fatalities. Take, for example, the Uber self-driving car test that leads to the death of a pedestrian.  

Needless to say, it is critical to ensure the safety of people inside and outside the driverless vehicle – before trials are performed. 

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