A fleet of electric, autonomous buses are hitting the roads in the Sion, the capital city of the Swiss canton of Valais, situated in the southwestern part of the country.
The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) and Mobility Lab Sion-Valais partnered to build the autonomous buses, which use a smart algorithm built in house to follow a direct route.
On the way through Sion, the electric buses will make a few stops. Citizens are allowed to take a ride for free, but for busy commuters the 20 kilometers per hour speed limit may be insufferable.
The largest bus operator in Switzerland, PostBus, will be in charge of the autonomous fleet. A manager and attendant will be on board, one tracking the route and checking everything is functioning, the other ensuring that people remain in their seats.
If the project attracts a lot of riders, the EPFL may look towards branching out the autonomous fleet to other cities. It should be noted that the Swiss Federal Road Office and Valais Road Office conducted extensive research into traffic and safety before giving the buses the greenlight, and any future cities will most likely have to get the same permissions.
Buses have seen some upgrades since plan launched
Since the first details of the autonomous buses were revealed, the team in charge has made some upgrades. The bus now features an air conditioning system, access ramp for disabled, wiper blades, and a second battery to give the bus more range.
Switzerland has quite a sparse population, making it a prime location for drone and autonomous car tests. The federal government has also been committed to emerging technology adoption, one of the factors that led citizens to ask for a basic income, to shield them from mass unemployment created by automation.
While Switzerland is the first to bring automation to public transport, there are other initiatives. Deutsche Bahn, Europe’s largest railway service, wants to deploy autonomous cars for the “final mile” of your journey and British firm RDM Group announced a new range of autonomous “pods” for public areas like shopping malls and theme parks.