The future of driverless vehicles is becoming closer to reality each day. Google and Tesla have been among the companies testing autonomous vehicles in the United States. Driverless pods were recently tested in the Greenwich, south-east London. Soon, the United Kingdom will also feature a full-sized driverless bus on a trial basis, thanks to Stagecoach. The single-decker bus won’t carry any passengers just yet, though.
According to The Guardian, the bus will operate without a driver in its depots for its initial testing. As the trials show that the technology is safe and effective, laws will eventually need to be adapted to allow for the transportation of passengers. This still seems several years away, but it is getting closer with each successful test.
The bus will basically drive itself to and park in depot areas to get fuel or for washing. The technology will feature a special sensor system built in which could also help make it more safer on public roads too. That sensor will help detect potential hazards such as pedestrians, cyclists, or other motorists that are in too close, or in blind spots.
If these driverless bus trials are successful in the UK, it could pave the way for the use of more autonomous vehicles on the streets. Other countries have been conducting their own tests. China has performed trials of driverless buses in Shenzhen on city roads while France has used smaller driverless vehicles for passenger services. In the United States, Tesla vehicles have been given build-in self-driving hardware which the company says is “at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver.”
The UK has mainly used shuttle vehicles or pods to transport passengers within their public areas. That could make Stagecoach’s driverless bus trial runs a major stepping stone in terms of bringing autonomous vehicles into more widespread use in the UK. Right now, there are some mixed public opinions when it comes to the use of smaller driverless vehicles too.
In the Greenwich area, driverless trains have been commonplace for commuters. However, research has found that the four-to-six seat shuttles that were tested came with some interesting feedback. About 85 percent of the passengers said they were “happy with autonomous technology.” When asked how they felt about ride sharing on these smaller driverless vehicles, only 46 percent of passengers said they were “happy” with it. In addition, many passengers would rather not pay more money to ride in one of these vehicles when it would be less expensive to pay a bus fare.
With that in mind, the driverless bus trials seem like a no-brainer for the area. As the Stagecoach UK bus engineering director Sam Greer said, the bus “could, in time, help improve safety and efficiency within our depots, and over the longer term, help transform bus travel in the future.”