Field testing of driverless cars has been steadily increasing over the past couple of years, but it’s mostly been limited to cars. This week, London is kicking off a pilot program to investigate how the technology can apply to the shuttle bus.
For the rest of this month, a driverless shuttle bus named Henry will be meandering its way through Greenwich along the Thames River. I mean meandering, too — the training wheels are definitely still on, with the shuttle going a maximum of 10 miles per hour. The four-seater shuttle will ferry about 100 people over the course of the month.
The shuttle is something that, eventually, will be completely autonomous. For safety, there will be an attendant in the shuttle that can hit the brakes during testing, but there are no controls otherwise — everything is handled by an on-board computer. And, unlike a lot of newer autonomous concepts, this shuttle won’t rely on connectivity, either. It’s equipped with LIDAR all around, which uses laser scanning and cameras to create a computerized 3D model of the world around the shuttle. The shuttle can use that information to detect moving and non-moving objects, allowing it to stay on a safe path to its destination and avoid anything that might move in its path.
It’s an ambitious test. The path that the shuttle will take will be shared by pedestrians and cyclists alike, so it sounds like the city and the company that created the shuttle, Oxbotica, really want to see what the shuttle is capable of in real world situations. If all goes well, the shuttles could start going into widespread use by 2019.