John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.
Not sure why there’s a driver right there, though.
Notice anything odd about this bus tooling along a highway in China’s Henan Province?
Look again. The dude behind the wheel is stretching his arms up like he’s dunking on someone—perhaps the execs at Google and Apple, as this thing is the “world’s first driverless bus,” according to manufacturer Yutong.
While tech companies in America have focused on personal automated cars, China has gone big with what could be the beginning of mass, unmanned bus transit. The spacious vehicle, unveiled at the end of August after three years of development, recently managed a 20-mile trip through the crowded city of Zhengzhou without crashing into other motorists or bursting into flames. That same driver stayed behind the wheel, true, but maybe as technology progresses he’ll be replaced with a Johnny-Cab robot.
The bus maneuvers with the help of cameras, laser radars, and a master controller that tells it to go faster and stop at signals. Yutong says in a press release it masterfully handled the road during one of its test drives:
With a distance of 32.6 km, the intercity road from Zhengzhou to Kaifeng has 26 traffic lights in total. Despite this and busy traffic, Yutong driverless bus successfully completed a series of highly complex driving acts, such as automatic lane change, overtake, and responding traffic lights. Without any human assistance, the bus arrived at its destination with its highest speed reaching 68 km/h (42 mph). According to some experts, the much improved active safety standard is the biggest advantage of unmanned vehicles as they are very likely to eliminate all kinds of traffic accidents.
The manufacturer also says the bus has an efficient driving style—one “that can only be attained by years of experience of an attentive and careful driver”—that will reduce energy waste and thus make the ride environmentally friendly. The company plans to put it through more tests, including running it on race lanes, before proceeding with real-world applications.
A reporting crew with RT took a spin on the bus last week. Have a look at the view from the front seat: