Autonomous, driverless buses will hit the streets of Switzerland in Spring next year, in one of the world’s first trials of self-driving buses on public roads.
Two of the driverless buses, created by startup BestMile and launched under the banner of Swiss bus company PostBus, will enter service in the city of Sion, in the French-speaking canton of Valais.
The two-year trial period is an important step for autonomous vehicle technology, but the service will be limited – the two buses, capable of carrying up to nine passengers each, will only cover tourist routes in Sion’s Old Town.
As The Local reports, the trial is the first commercial contract for BestMile, a company that has only existed since January last year.
It was set up by two graduates from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne, Anne Koymans and Raphaël Gindrat.
The pair, working with other experts from their alma mater, have been working tirelessly to develop the algorithms that will allow the buses to navigate roads and identify obstacles without human intervention.
Naturally, humans are still involved in some aspects of the buses’ operation – BestMile says the buses are monitored in the same way that aircraft are controlled from an airport control tower.
Since there will be only two buses in operation, the logistics of controlling them should be managable – but BestMile says it could be operating far more vehicles in the future, offering services in cities but also remote areas which are typically poorly served by public transport.
Companies like Google, Apple and Tesla routinely make headlines for their ambitions in the driverless car market – but BestMile is one of the few companies bringing autonomous public transport to life.
Swiss bus drivers may be worried about the prospect of being replaced by robots, but a spokeswoman for PostBus allayed their fears, telling local paper the Tribune de Geneve: “We will always need drivers.”
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