Driverless Buses a Go in Greece

The roads of a rural Greek city called Trikala are now home to a fleet of six battery-powered driverless buses.

Passenger-free trials of the vehicles, a collaborative effort between tech companies Robosoft and CityMobil2, began in Trikala early this past summer. Last month marked the second phase of the trial, in which the buses may now transport ten passengers each at a speed of 19 kilometers per hour (12 miles per hour).

While Trikala is by no means a bustling metropolis, the city of 80,000 people won the bid to host the project by offering to open its downtown to the automated vehicles, whereas competing European cities offered only restricted urban areas.

“We have a 2.4-kilometer (1.5-mile) route,” Odysseas Raptis, head of Trikala’s digital project department, told the Associated Press. “It’s mixed with traffic, with pedestrians, with bicycles, with cars… That hasn’t been done before.”

Previous trials with the French-built CityMobil2 buses were run under controlled conditions in La Rochelle, France, in Lausanne, Switzerland, and near Helsinki, Finland. The trial in Trikala provides the first opportunity for developers to see how the technology will respond in the presence of unpredictable obstructions, such as cyclists, cars, and stray animals.

The fully automated buses possess onboard navigation capabilities that implement laser sensors, cameras, and GPS. Data collected by these apparatuses is transmitted over a live feed to drivers who monitor the system from a remote control center.

“It’s as if they are in here and they can stop the bus if they want to, if something goes wrong,” said Vasilis Karavidas, chief technician of the project’s Greek branch.

Philippe Criste, a senior transport analyst at the International Transport Forum, thinks that accessible, automated public transit will redesign the paradigm of modern transport entirely.

“There is a good chance that these technologies will create entirely new uses that we can only poorly grasp today,” he said. “The reality is that everything is changing around these technologies and it is plausible that society may lose interest in owning cars or using fixed-service public transport–especially if these technologies allow better alternatives to emerge.

Further development of similar automated, eco-friendly vehicles could decongest roads and optimize mobility, making travel safer, more efficient, and most importantly, more sustainable.

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