Driverless post buses will soon be operating in the canton of Valais after a collaboration between PostBus and a Swiss startup founded by recent graduates from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne.
The Swiss city of Sion will begin a two-year trial of two autonomous buses beginning in spring 2016.
The electric-powered vehicles will be able to carry nine passengers at a time and will be in service in tourist zones in Sion’s Old Town.
Installed with technology developed by Lausanne-based start-up BestMile, the distinctive vehicles will be able to navigate roads accurately, identify obstacles and read road signs.
The buses come from startup BestMile and will be operated by SwissPost transport subsidiary Car Postal. The company’s name hints at the purpose for these small, nine-person shuttles. They are designed to cover the “last mile,” the gap between a regular bus or metro stop and the passenger’s own front door.
Unlike Google’s private self-driving vehicles, BestMile’s focus is public transport. It also takes a different approach suited to a network of vehicles running on known routes: the network controls the buses “the same way a control tower does in an airport,” writes BestMile. The company is also working with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne to improve the technology for better control and routing.
This hub-and-shuttle model might prove an excellent alternative to the other commonly-imagined scenario of fleets of driverless “taxis”—a robotic Uber network, offering a similar level of convenience but without putting so many vehicles on the road. Driving on known routes is easier for the buses, too, because they can have detailed internal maps of those routes instead of having to assess road conditions on the fly. It’s notable that the first driverless buses in the U.S. will also use this short-hop model.