In one of the first ever trials on public roads, two driverless buses carrying up to 9 passengers will soon begin to operate in the town of Sion, located in the canton of Valais, Switzerland. The buses are set to navigate around the main tourist areas of the old town, and will be able to autonomously navigate roads and identify obstacles. The vehicles will still be monitored by actual people – but from a distance. The system, explained the Swiss operator PostBus, works similarly to how flights are coordinated and monitored by air traffic control staff.
The company behind the robotic technology is BestMile, which was started by two enterprising young graduates from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne. This will be their company’s first contract since it opened for business back in January 2015. The system is run by a comprehensive set of computer algorithms that they claim will make accidents less common than those routinely caused by human error.
The driverless car market has seen healthy investment by powerful players such as Google, Apple and Tesla, despite wide concerns regarding the feasibility of implementing appropriate infrastructure and safety. BestMile is one of the few companies to apply the same technology to public transport. They feel that the set routes of public transport make it far easier to operate and monitor than the much more complicated logistics required for driverless cars. BestMile is optimistic about their future, explaining that their buses will be ideal for connecting remote areas that are currently underserved by the public transport system due to lack of profitability. It will be interesting to see how passengers react to riding in a bus with no driver.