Earlier this month Jim Brophy shared with us the Technobus Gulliver 520, which is smaller than many passenger cars. This week a new autonomous bus service trial was launched at LaTrobe University in Melbourne’s northern suburbs – and it is smaller! But there is a lot more to the story than just size.
The buses are supplied by Navya SAS, a French company started by Christophe Sapet and is now majority-owned by component supplier Valeo. Navya have been producing and testing autonomous cars since 2014, and these buses have been available commercially since 2016.
They are 4.75m or 187″ long, 2.11m / 83″ wide and 2.65m / 104″ tall, to provide standing head room. The bus weighs 2400kg / 5290lb with a maximum weight of 3450kg / 7605lb. The electric motor has a maximum power rating of 25kW / 33hp, which results in a maximum potential speed of 45km/h or 28mph, however actual service speed is usually 25km/h / 15mph or so. Powered comes from a 33kWh LiFePO4 battery pack and charging is either by cable or induction – which would be handy if loops were installed at the bus’ termini or even stops. The rate of induction charging is half that by cable.
They are rated to carry 15 seated and standing passengers. Under the SAE autonomous vehicle categorisation, the buses are Category 5 – without conventional controls for a driver although the La Trobe buses have a safety attendant and there are two emergency stop buttons.
As you would expect there is an extensive array of sensors and systems as shown above. There are two 3D Lidars and six 2D, plus front and rear cameras for the driving and GPS and wheel sensors so the bus knows where it is. What looks like a method of connecting a series of buses together in a platoon (to use Tesla terminology) is actually a pair of Lidar sensors. Being fully-autonomous the bus has the ability not only to avoid vehicles or pedestrians that may stray into its path, but also to drive around obstacles.
These buses are not ready for general public transit-type use, but are used on specific routes in low-ish speed environments such as university campuses or airport carparks. The La Trobe route is approximately a kilometre, with half a dozen or so stops. Not only do the lower operating speeds reduce the risk, but they also provide a slightly-controlled operating environment compared to the wider world.
One prominent fleet in the USA is in downtown Las Vegas, where on the new bus’ very first day it was involved in an incident – too minor to be called a crash – where an articulated truck reversing into a loading bay struck the front of the bus. Perhaps a manned bus would have avoided this by sounding its horn or reversing away from the danger; although I wonder if one of the passengers hit the emergency stop button? (Ed: No. The bus had already stopped well before the truck hit it. There was an attendant on board, but there was nothing for him to do. The bus did exactly what it was supposed to) Also just over a year ago one of the Swiss buses hit the open tailgate of a delivery van.
This is a pretty fascinating development, and shows where the state of the art of autonomous vehicles is (or at least was a year or so ago) – still pretty limited. I heard someone connected with the project interviewed on the radio, including being asked whether university students will prank the bus to get it to stop for example, and it sounds that the autonomous system will be the most timid driver you have ever seen on the road. Fair enough in early stages, and why the application is limited.
You may have noticed that essentially all the launch and promotional photos show perfect weather; perhaps readers who have encountered the buses at the University of Michigan may report on how they deal with not-so-perfect weather? When radar cruise control systems won’t operate in poor weather, I have to wonder how these buses would cope.
Navya is next rolling out an autonomous 6-passenger cab. The vehicle is slightly smaller and lighter, and largely shares its technical specifications with the bus, but it represents a significantly greater challenge as it moves away from the extensively-mapped routes the buses operate on.
It is interesting that while there are a few companies making a lot of noise about testing autonomous cars, that there are already autonomous vehicles in use around the world. As the Swiss accident illustrates, there are still refinements to be made before the existing systems will be safe to operate in wider environments and at higher speeds, but if you were to compare it to the development of the automobile in the late 19th century I think things are looking promising.
Bus Stop Outtake: Technobus Gulliver U520 – World’s Shortest Bus
Johnny Cab has better personal service
It looks like I will be in Las Vegas around Christmastime, I will see about finding the shuttle and doing a ride and drive or whatever it would be called. The price of rides seems to be just within the CC editorial budget constraint parameters.
If you’re in town, let’s grab a beer!
With the Navya autonomous 6-passenger cab, directional-rake styling finally becomes indispensable, as that is the only way to tell which direction this vehicle is pointing ! The Technobus, on the other hand, throws its hands up and says “I’m omnidirectional — take it or leave it !”
I imagine a Smart Forten bus would be even smaller than the subject vehicle ? How about a string of telephone booths, following a tractor unit ? This could be AT&T’s entry into the vehicle market; they could use left-over booths bolted to moving dollies and save a bundle in engineering fees . . .
Things could be worse, styling-wise if you want mobile telephone booths
I had another thought on the omnidirectional side – it would reduce the number of distinct parts needed. I’m trying to think of which car that did this – was it a production car or a concept car by perhaps Pininfarina?
That would be the Porsche Panamera…..
The AMC Cavalier concept car of the mid-60s utilized the same doors front and rear, and the same fenders, rear fascia and bumpers front and rear as well. The doors and fenders would have been interchangeable diagonally (left front to right rear for example) saving money on tooling.
Smaller buses that run more often might be more efficient and have the advantage that you don’t run a big bus with few passengers. I don’t really know but I hope someone is thinking that. On the other hand, is there some reaston these things need such goofy styling?
This wins on straight up weirdness: A transit bus that is 3 feet SHORTER than a 1971 Electra 225, but weighs an average of 1,400 pounds more…Like the girl in the early Su-BAR-u ads would say: WOW!
OK, we’re going to all this trouble to go a kilometer? Which, to Americans, is roughly .61 miles.
Which means that young, supposedly healthy (I’ll assume that handicapped students are a minority of the users) are incapable of walking that kind of distance? Sheesh, how lazy can one get?
No, I’m not in the, “when I was young we had to walk thru blinding snow storms 40 miles in each direction” (see: Monty Python old men sketch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ue7wM0QC5LE), but I was certainly capable of walking from my dorm to the classroom building back then, which was about the same distance.
OK, we’re going to all this trouble to go a kilometer? Which, to Americans, is roughly .61 miles.
Bingo. We live about a mile from downtown, and we walk there (and beyond) and back almost daily. It takes us 15 minutes. And 1.5 miles from the UO campus, which we can get to in 20 minutes. And all along the way, I see people standing at bus stops, waiting for the bus, in some case less than half the way there. And many of these are young/students/etc.., and all too often look decidedly out of shape.
It’s more than a bit depressing really, since these folks would undoubtedly be more productive in their day’s work/study/etc. from the benefits of a brisk walk, never mind their physical shape overall.
I had on grad-school tenant last year, at one of my rentals a bit further away, closer to 2 miles from campus who walked both ways every day. But then she was from NYC, and she told me it was how she stayed in shape and sharp.
Walking is the best default exercise, and no gym is required.
I walk roughly 1.5 miles everyday at lunch (that’s my 1/2 hour break). I always say that “Walking won’t make you buff but it helps to ensure that your pants still fit.”
I’m fortunate that with getting around the campus and my inability to sit still for more than about 30-45 min I can usually hit 8,000 on the pedometer per day.
I’ll argue you on that, seeing how wedded I am to bicycles.
Advantages: faster, and you get to coast – unless you have one of those damned fixies. Disadvantages – there is some cash outlay, if not for the initial purchase, then maintenance. But then, shoes cost money, too. (Yes, they’re potentially optional.)
Plus, a bicycle gives you something to tinker with. Walking? Well, I suppose you can polish your shoes.
So when I saw the picture, I thought “What’s the point?”
After reading this, though, I can imagine a place for this in the “bus” ecosystem. At the University of Michigan, for instance, this bus could never fill in for the Commuter North or South or Diag-Diag Express, which are usually packed shoulder-to-shoulder during the day. But, this could take on additional small routes that are presently not popular enough to warrant their own route at 4-6 miles per gallon (which is what buses do these days), driver costs (U of M loves having work-study students drive the buses, which helps on the costs front), etc.
This could also help provide more frequent service along popular routes, depending on the cost of the buses themselves. Again using the U of M example, the Med Express routes were usually only partly full because it took the bus a long time to run the full route. Having two or three of these might make those routes more attractive because riders wouldn’t be standing for 45 minutes waiting for the bus to turn up again.
I’m super excited to see these sorts of trials happening, and I think they offer some real potential to help find a better solution than current public transit usually can offer while lessening the need for the (absolutely unsustainable in every way, not just the source of fuel) personal automobile.
Kinda makes me wish I was still in school so I could ride one of these to see what it’s about.