Driverless buses operating in Lyon

Two electric driverless buses started working on the streets of Lyon this week at the beginning of a year long trial.

The keyword is “working”, though… not “earning”!

The buses, manufactured by a Lyon-based company, Navya, have been road tested in other French cities but until now, not with passengers. They can carry up to 15 passengers who for the duration of the trial, will be travelling free.

The buses are operating initially a small scale shuttle service on a 1.3km route with five stops in the Confluence quartier of the city, next to the confluence of the Rhône and the Saône. Their top speed is 20 kilometres an hour (12 mph) and the total journey time, depending on traffic conditions, is around 13 minutes. Passengers can summon the bus from a stop using a terminal or a mobile app.

Those traffic conditions should be ‘light’ because although the buses are technically on public roads, they are shielded from normal vehicular traffic by a tramway. That’s because they don’t yet have the ability to mix with moving vehicles. They have laser sensors, radar, stereoscopic vision and GPS, enabling them to position themselves within 2 cms, remember where fixed objects are, and recognise unexpected temporary objects (like an advertising hoarding placed in the road) and mobile objects such as pedestrians, pets, or cyclists. Essentially they can stop and wait for the obstacle to move, or if it doesn’t and there’s space, move around it.

So, they may not yet be weaving & dodging their way through busy urban traffic, leaving human bus drivers unemployed, but it’s an interesting project. Next time I’m in Lyon, I might help them as a guinea pig for their research!

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