Driverless shuttle buses are now ferrying Londoners at speeds of up to 10 mph on a two-mile riverside path, courtesy of a startup that hopes to both introduce the public to self-driving vehicles and improve public transportation in the notoriously congested British capital.
The startup behind the autonomous shuttles is Oxbotica, one of many companies working on mapping and other software for self-driving cars. Using cameras and lasers, Oxbotica's system can pinpoint its exact location on a preloaded map without using imprecise GPS signals. Its algorithms then process data from the sensors to identify and track pedestrians, cars and other obstacles. Finally, it combines the mapping and obstacle data together to calculate a safe route.
Oxbotica has a fleet of five shuttles, some of which are also being tested in Oxford, England. Each can seat four people, and has a human operator aboard who can manually stop the shuttle if necessary.
Officials in London, where residents often bemoan the quality of public buses and trains, believe the driverless shuttles could improve public transport in the capital's Greenwich neighborhood. Paying passengers could begin using the system by 2019 on a trial basis and it could eventually be rolled out elsewhere, according to the BBC. But first, the public needs to get used to the idea of riding in them.
"Very few people have experienced an autonomous vehicle, so this is about letting people see one in person," Oxbotica CEO Graeme Smith told the BBC. "We hope to gain acceptance from members of the public for vehicles sharing this kind of space with them."