Finland is ready for robot buses. After a series of trials, Helsinki will debut regular autonomous bus service this fall, according to a statement by city transportation officials.
As Curbed reported last August, the city began trials last summer with a pair of electric-powered Easymile EZ-10 vehicles, which carried up to 12 public passengers along a fixed route in Helsinki’s Hernesaari neighborhood. With an operator on board in case of emergencies, the bus traversed a quarter-mile course at a leisurely 11 kilometers per hour (7 m.p.h.). Now, the city feels confident enough with early results to move from the experimental phase to regular, scheduled service.
The buses were previously tested on closed roads in the Netherlands and in a small Finnish town just north of Helsinki. But the successful urban trial, one of the first in the world, has now led to a potential first: regular autonomous transportation service. Many experts believe this may be the first true application of autonomous transportation technology that will reach the masses.
The final route, launch date, and schedule of the RoboBusLine will be announced later this year. City authorities believe this technology can help solve the last-mile issue and potentially deliver transit riders right to their homes. The ultimate goal is to increase public transit usage, part of the city’s goal to build a mobility-on-demand service that makes car usage and private ownership pale in comparison.
Trials thus far have been run by Sohjoa, an EU-financed joint project by the six largest cities of Finland, Finnish universities, and transportation authorities. In addition to test-runs in Helsinki, the minibuses have also hit the road in the cities of Espoo and Tampere. This July and August, another shuttle test will take passengers from Helsinki’s Mustikkamaa recreational island to Helsinki Zoo. Finland has become a leader in self-driving technology due to a quirk in its laws: every vehicle on the road technically doesn’t require a driver.
These experiments are all part of a larger European Union initiative, the mySMARTLife program, which seeks to cut energy consumption and develop urban solutions to mitigate climate change.