Global Self-driving Car Test Drives
It should be noted though that self-driving public transport projects have already been implemented in some parts of the world. Thus, for example, a self-driving shuttle The ParkShuttle began operating between Kralingse Zoom and Rivium metro stations as far back as in 1999 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Shuttle uses a combination of onboard electronic maps and drives along a separate road with no interaction with other transport or any obstacles.
Until 2001 this 1300 meters long route had three shuttles able to carry up to 20 passengers each. In 2005 their number increased to six while the route was extended by two kilometers and five more stations. In rush hour shuttle move according to schedule with 2.5 min intervals and, as Dutch mass-media put it, using shuttles allows substantial savings as driver’s salary in the Netherlands makes on average 50-60% of total public transport maintenance costs.
Many countries are prepared to adopt Dutch experience. For instance, last year Chinese search engine Baidu announced that it is launching its own self-driving car project in partnership with BMW. That said, unlike Google developers, whose Google self-driving car is designed primarily for private use, Baidu reps assume that adoption of self-driving cars needs to begin with public buses and shuttles. “It is better to start with self-driving buses that will drive on a fixed route”, Andrew Ng, Chief Scientist, Baidu Research, is convinced.
According to the expert an important condition for safe movement of such transport is a good road surface. There must be no structures or at least such structures must be included in maps. So far smart car is not able to foresee all contingencies that may occur on the road. Creating a program that will allow objective processing of data in a constantly changing environment is a very difficult task of the future. According to the representative of Baidu, first self-driving cars that will be limited to a certain fixed route will begin to appear in the nearest three years until 2019 and mass production may be expected to start by 2012.
In the meantime, in January of this year the Netherlands conducted test drives of a self-driving car called Wepod with passengers on board moving on a public road. Similar electrocars Ultra Pods were used at London Heathrow Airport and moved within a closed road while this year it is planned to use Ultra Pods on London streets.
Introduction of self-driving cars in various countries can be constrained by absence of legal ground. Laws say that a vehicle is a mode of transport that is driven by a person. First European country that made changes to its legislation to expand the possible use of self-driving cars was Greece. Because of that Greek city of Trikala had six CityMobil2 self-driving buses driving along one of the urban routes during the period from September 2015 to January 2016.
Last autumn Singapore also held a test drive of Auto Rider self-driving cars in one of its parks - Garden by the Bay. The cars were produced in France but adopted by a Singaporean company ST Engineering. Cars can drive at up to 40 kmh. Battery power is enough for six hours. Charging time - 8 hours. Bus capacity - 10 passengers. Test drives of Auto Rider can continue for another two years until this transport will begin operating after 2018.
Self-driving cars are powered not only by electricity. Thus, Toyota is preparing self-driving Toyota Alphards which use fuel. Company plans on using these cars for rides outside the city. On average Toyota’s self-driving cars pass 6 km in 10 minutes depending on traffic at 40 kmh. Cars can accommodate seven persons and are supposed to work 708 hours a day, including night time and weekends, six days a week.
Other self-driving car projects are also conducted by the U.S., Belgium, Japan. By the way, Robot Taxi project is going to start this month. Residents of coastal city Fujisawa which is located not too far from Tokyo, will be able to use self-driving transport to buy groceries from a supermarket located three kilometers from their home.
What About Us?
Russia also has ongoing tests and developments in the sphere of self-driving cars. In February 2015 KAMAZ has launched a project to create Russian self-driving truck together with local software developer Cognitive Technologies. The first self-driving KAMAZ was tested on a closed road in Noginsk which is located near Moscow in June 2015. During the test drive the truck tested around 10 scenarios of autonomous driving and demonstrated ability to drive only based on information received from cameras and GPS/GLONASS signals.
In October 2015 the truck was able to complete such maneuvers as ‘turns’ stopping at obstacles, recognizing road marks, road signs, pedestrians and other obstacles with speed up to 60 kmh.
According to Sergey Kogogin, Director General, KAMAZ, the company is planning to launch self-driving cars in test mode on domestic roads in 2018, and by 2025 they are planning to have mass production of trucks. Some industries are already showing their interest to self-driving truck. It may be used to transport cargo and in agriculture.
Self-driving vehicles are also being developed in the sphere of public transport. Just recently in the course of Forum of Strategic Initiatives a group of companies Volgabus presented the first Russian prototype of self-driving bus based on MatrЁshka platform. The said model can accommodate six passengers, equipped with electric engine, three types of sensors, navigation and orientation systems. Driving is in the hands of self-learning software which is able to analyze road situation in real time. Fully robotized passenger and cargo transport vehicles are currently being tested too.