The Phantom Bus Driver: Helsinki Rolls Out Autonomous Public Transit

Helsinki, Finland has long been on the forefront of developing cutting edge transportation technologies. By 2025, they hope to implement a “mobility on demand” system that would eliminate the need for private vehicles through the combination of bicycle-sharing, public transit, and on demand taxi services. One of Finland’s laws is particularly conducive to increasing the technology involved with transportation – they do not legally require vehicles on public roadways to have drivers within the vehicle.

phantom_bus_helsinki

In August, they began taking an even more dramatic step to revolutionizing their citizens’ daily transportation needs. Although autonomous busses have been seen before in more controlled environments such as college campuses, the Helsinki bus is the first of its kind to operate on public roads, interacting with live traffic and having to make complex driving decisions. As of November 1st, the busses are running a route between Tampere University of Technology and Hervantakeskus Shopping Centre. The brains behind the project plan on stopping the service at the first snow fall in order to test the vehicle under difficult conditions. By getting commuters out of private cars and into public transit, the city of Helsinki could decongest streets, creating a safer atmosphere for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.

Developed by French company EasyMile in collaboration with the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, the model, EZ10, is able to carry 12 passages, 6 sitting and 6 standing. It uses a system of sensors and software in order to be aware of its surroundings. Passengers can board and disembark at predetermined points along the route.

Although the busses are a large step forward in moving toward autonomous transportation, there are still various pitfalls that must be first overcome. First of all, the busses are not completely autonomous. There is an attendant in the front of the vehicle, ready to push the emergency stop if the situation arises. Furthermore, the busses are only currently running at 7 mph, making efficient travel a bit of a difficulty. Lastly, it is not capable of lateral movement – if the vehicle needs to swerve around an obstacle, the attendant must manually do so.

bus_2_helsinki

Currently, the best use for the autonomous bus is in last mile service. The city of Helsinki, along with the University, hope to use the bus to move people from a transportation hub, to a final destination in the home. The city does not plan to replace the entire public transit system with these autonomous vehicles, but rather, hopes to use them as supplements to the existing system in high use areas. The main usage Helsinki has in mind is using them as a feeder service, transporting people to faster, more efficient forms of transit. Although only cruising along at a snail’s pace, Helsinki hopes for the bus to finally reach the Finnish line.

 

By: Adrian Ayala, UMTC Research

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