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Driverless Swiss bus creates a buzz

Good things come in small packages (Photo: Car Postal)

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Kate Mann
Kate Mann
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Switzerland becomes the latest country to test the potential of autonomous busses for improved mobility.

Adding its name to a list of international cities such as Singapore and Washington, D.C., the town of Sion in the Swiss canton of Valais, has also hopped on the driverless public transport bandwagon.

On June 23 two autonomous electric busses took to the town’s streets, marking the start of a two-year trial. As reported by Gizmag, the busses are already fitted with air-conditioning, a ramp for disabled access and a backup battery. They are also currently free to use. When it comes to picking up speed and passengers however, the busses remain modest: Each vehicle has a total of 11 seats and can reach a maximum speed of 12.4 miles per hour (20 kilometers per hour).

The project is being run by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) as part of the Mobility Lab Sion Valais initiative. Despite the presence of an attendant on board to keep an eye on safety and security, the busses are controlled remotely using software developed by BestMile, a startup founded by recent graduates from EPFL in Lausanne.

According to an EPFL press release, the aim of the trial is to test and improve traffic and fleet management algorithms, and develop a system that can handle the many situations that autonomous vehicles could encounter. The idea is to offer an on-demand service, with flexible routes and the possibility for passengers to book a ride in advance.

Bus-to-bus communication will enable the vehicles to adjust their speed as necessary and respect the right-of-way. So as everyone continues to communicate about busses, it seems what could be more important is that the busses themselves learn to communicate.

Find the Gizmag article here and the EPFL press release here

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