Would you ride on a driverless bus? The tiny CityMobil2 driverless bus takes its route in front of Osman Sah Mosque, in Trikala town, Greece. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Would you ride on a driverless bus?
Lexile

There'll be no arguing with the driver on this bus. After all, the rides are free and there's no driver, anyway.
 
Trikala is a rural town in northern Greece. It has been chosen to test a driverless bus in real traffic conditions for the first time. The test is part of a European project and its goal is to revolutionize mass transport and wean its cities off oil dependency over the next 30 years.
 
Trials of the French-built CityMobil2 buses will last through late February.
 
Over the past year, CityMobil2 has been tried out near its base in La Rochelle in western France, on a campus in Lausanne, Switzerland and near Helsinki, Finland. Each site provides controlled conditions so there were no accidents.
 
But Greece is a country of narrow, winding, hilly streets, stray dogs, bicycle riders and impatient drivers. The buses are up against real traffic and the Greek government had to amend its laws to allow the testing. The city had to build a dedicated bus lane, which deprived residents of downtown parking spaces.
 
The robot buses don't look like science fiction vehicles. They are more like golf cart meets ice cream truck. Still, heads turn as the skinny, battery-powered buses hum through the streets. They seat only 10 people. Each is guided by GPS and supplementary sensors. The sensors include lasers and cameras. They send live data to a control center.
 
The buses go no faster than 12 1/2 miles per hour. But the trials in Trikala (pronounced TREE-kah-lah) potentially represent a major advance for automated transport.
 
"There were cities bidding for this project all over Europe. They offered relatively restricted urban areas. But we said we could make it happen in a downtown environment and we won," said Odisseas Raptis, who heads the city's digital project department. It is called e-Trikala. "We have a 2.4-kilometer (1.5-mile) route, the bus route. It's mixed with traffic, with pedestrians, with bicycles, with cars. That hasn't been done before."
 
Vasilis Karavidas is the chief technician for the project in Greece. He trained with Robosoft, the company that developed the bus, in the southwest French town of Bidart.
 
Although the driverless buses are fully automated with onboard navigation and obstacle detection systems, each vehicle will be monitored by a driver in the control center. That individual can override the system, Karavidas said.
 
"It's as if they are in here and they can stop the bus if they want to, if something goes wrong," he said.
 
The buses are currently running without passengers. Full testing will start later in October. That's when a fiber-optic network allowing faster data transmission is completed. Six battery-powered vehicles will eventually be used in this farming town of 80,000. The town has become hooked on high-tech.
 
Trikala already has already tested EU-funded pilot medical programs. They include schemes to relay heart test data from home to the doctor's office and use tracker devices for Alzheimer patients. In the center of the city, a "digital tree" with solar panels allows benches to carry phone-charging outlets.
 
The 28-nation European Union is targeting gasoline use for city transport as one area where it wants to reduce carbon emissions. With oil prices and city populations expected to rise in the coming decades, a major shift to battery power and more shared transport could blur the line between private and public vehicles.
 
Senior transport analyst Philippe Crist works at the International Transport Forum. It is a think-tank based in Paris. He says transport trends are hard to predict as the world moves more toward automation.
 
"We too often look at technological changes in isolation," Crist said. "There is a good chance that these technologies will create entirely new uses that we can only poorly grasp today. 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."
 
Models run by the think tank suggest that city transport could be made massively more efficient.
 
Crist said researchers looked at "shared and route-optimized on-call taxi-like services replacing all car and bus trips in a mid-sized European city. We found that these systems could deliver almost the same mobility as today but with 95 percent fewer vehicles."
 
Driverless cars and buses offer an easier way to optimize traffic flow while aiming to eliminate human error. That has transport developers working at both ends. They are adding automatic features to conventional vehicles while raising the bar for those that will have no driver at all.
 
So far, the CityMobile2 has had mixed reviews on the streets of Trikala. Not everyone is happy to lose parking spots or replace human jobs with machines. Still, retiree Michalis Pantelis said he was proud that his city was selected for the testing.
 
"I think it's wonderful. Think how many people will come to Trikala to see this. It's new and innovative," he said, moments after a driverless bus passed by. "It reminds me of the toy cars my grandchildren play with."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What advantages does a driverless bus offer?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (123)
  • charliet-orv
    10/19/2015 - 03:46 p.m.

    The advantages that a driverless bus has is that you do not have to worry about a drunk driver, the "driver" won't have to stop to get grocerys, and you don't have to worry about the rules of the road being broken.

  • maxx-ver
    10/19/2015 - 07:03 p.m.

    Truthfully I wouldn't ride a driverless bus

  • tiffanyf-1-bar
    10/19/2015 - 07:58 p.m.

    A driverless bus would offer guaranteed safety. The bus would protect passengers from fatal human errors and it would also be much more efficient for people commuting throughout the city.

  • mayaw-6-bar
    10/19/2015 - 08:53 p.m.

    Some advantages a driver-less bus offers are, more people can work, there will be more jobs available, there will be more seats on the bus available, there will be less gasoline used because everyone else will not be driving their own cars, there will be more public transportation, and there will be less money spent/needed to pay for bus drivers. I find this article interesting because the technology behind this car must not be as complicated as we think. I chose this article because I can not wait until there will more cars without drivers.

  • maxwellc-3-bar
    10/19/2015 - 10:35 p.m.

    A driverless bus offers the advantages of less human error, less gas emissions, and less money usage. Although this is an interesting project, "So far, the CityMobile2 has had mixed reviews on the streets of Trikala. Not everyone is happy to lose parking spots or replace human jobs with machines." I think this is a good idea for trying to reduce carbon emissions, however I don't know if this is the best way to stop climate change in the big picture.

  • roberto-ver
    10/20/2015 - 11:59 a.m.

    I think a driverless bus is a cool idea but should not be a real thing. There are enough car accidents as there is. A driverless bus would double the amount of accidents. That is why I think the driverless bus should not be a thing.

  • alic-nar
    10/20/2015 - 04:07 p.m.

    This is so cool I wish there was a bus here in Lakeland like that so I can ride around everywhere to the store to school to my friends house that will be awesome!????????????????????

  • mariaha-nar
    10/20/2015 - 04:29 p.m.

    The advantages of a driverless bus would be you wouldn't have to listen to all of the kids.

  • ronp-nar
    10/20/2015 - 04:39 p.m.

    The driverless bus would increase safety for not only passengers on board, but also those around the area. That's because it deletes the possible chance of human error. So it increases safety.

  • naiyasiaa-nar
    10/20/2015 - 04:40 p.m.

    The many advantages that a driverless bus offers are, you would not have to argue with the bus driver, you would not have to be worried about the bus driver missing your stop, and you will not have to waste money on public transportation. Also I think that a driverless bus would be great for people who are homeless and live on the streets, at least they would be able to ride on the bus all day for free.

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