The driverless bus you hail with your mobile
A MODEL of a futuristic "driverless" bus that promises to cut air pollution and traffic congestion was unveiled at the Science Museum yesterday.
The state-of-the-art vehicle will use the latest technology to navigate the streets, using magnets embedded in the road as markers.
Passengers will be able to hail a bus or "pod" using their mobile phone to pick them up from a specified location, to take them to a chosen destination. The bus has been developed by leading bus engineering designers Capoco Design in collaboration with the Royal College of Art.
Alan Ponsford, Capoco's lead designer, said the pods would carry between 12 and 24 people and several could run together on main routes, before splitting up and going into residential areas. It could run along fixed routes but also work out the best and most efficient route for picking up and dropping off passengers based on their route.
He said: "The bus goes along sniffing out magnets in the road which tell it exactly where it is, so it can redirect itself to pick up passengers."
Mr Ponsford said each automated bus has satellite navigation and intelligent cruise control, as well as onboard systems to control speed and direction and avoid hazards.
Designers claim the bus, which is an electric drive and bio-fuel hybrid, will be cheap to run, with the lack of driver reducing operating costs by up to 50 per cent. The bus will also use 50 per cent less energy than ordinary buses and 85 per cent less than cars.
A prototype is due next year and Mr Ponsford said the system could be available commercially in about three years. He said: "There will be a significant period of introduction, with the first trials run in a closed community such as Heathrow Airport. Then it will be tested in other communities."
If trials are successful, the bus could be ready to work alongside other modes of transport in cities within ten years.
However, Mr Ponsford admitted there were some problems to be overcome: a driverless vehicle at a French theme park ran over and killed a sleeping dog on the route and the sensors were subsequently re-set.
A pile of leaves might prove a difficult obstacle for sensors to assess, but if the pod stopped, a central controller would be able to use a camera on the front of the bus to make a decision whether it was safe to proceed.
A spokesman for bus drivers union, the TGWU, said he could see a place for driverless buses, but doubted drivers would become a thing of the past.
"Any impersonal service that has all the hallmarks of 1984 or Brave New World, I think is going to take a long time to be accepted," he said.
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