A driverless mini bus runs on an open road in Hernesaari, Helsinki, Finland, Aug. 26, 2016. Since mid-August, the French made Easymile EZ-10 driverless mini bus has been tested in an open road section in Helsinki. Automated buses have been tested elsewhere in the world, but operation as part of regular street traffic has been rare. In the past week, the project has attracted some 500 viewers and passengers. In the testing, the type of bus was found to be "scary" of real street environment such as irregularly parked cars, overtaking vehicles and nearby passengers. (Xinhua/Li Jizhi)
by Juhani Niinisto, Li Jizhi
HELSINKI, Aug. 26 (Xinhua) -- It was quiet on Friday morning. A self-driving test was carried out for less than four hours along a several-hundred-meter section at a seaside public road in Hernesaari district in Helsinki.
Impatient at the slow speed of the unmanned mini-bus, a following car overtook it side by side. The passengers inside the driverless bus could feel it braked automatically.
The attendant explained that the bus will slow down if it detects through its laser eyes any unexplainable object. It is not able to tell whether it is a harmless car or a human.
Even though there was no chauffer, the passengers were accompanied with an attendant who could switch on manual steering, should it be required.
Without driver's cabin, the French made EZ-10 bus can carry 12 passengers at a time. Although it can reach the speed of 40 km per hour, it has been running at 11 km per hour.
Indeed this test project seemed to have much clout in pro-technology Finland. In the past week, the free-of-charge drive has attracted hundreds of viewers and passengers, including journalists, entrepreneurs, engineers, researchers and normal citizens.
On Monday morning, five or six passengers were expecting the bus to start moving from its designated stop at Hernesaari, but the attendant told them a tow truck had been ordered and must be awaited.
The automated bus needs no tow, but someone had parked cars on the side of the street in a way that could disturb the automated travel.
A tow-away truck arrived soon and removed the wrongly parked vehicles. Finally the bus could move.
The organizers of the project Nordic Way have highlighted the open street environment of the tests. But the streets have to be predictable for the bus to venture to the road. If the bus' sensors find anything unusual, they behave like an inexperienced driver and first slow down and then stop.
The make-shift bus stop also had a sign prohibiting "standing at the stop when the bus leaves". The bus cannot move if it detects something near the bus.
While automated buses have been used in closed paths in several cities in the world, operation as part of regular street traffic has been rare. The project manager Harri Santamala told Xinhua the unique aspect in the Finnish test is that automated buses are moving on a regular street.
He said the Finnish transport safety authority Trafi allows real environment tests, as Finnish laws do not specifically require automobiles to have a driver.
The project offers an open invitation platform that companies can utilize to develop new products and services related to driverless vehicles.
One of the companies involved is Nokia.
Matti Mustajarvi from Nokia's Innovation Steering unit told local media last week that the company aims at securing a functioning communication network to serve such an automated car. He said that it was too early to predict what the development leads to, but probably "totally new products" will be developed.
Santamala took distance from the idea that automated buses could replace public transit soon. "But they could serve in the feeder systems to transit", he said.
The test buses will leave Helsinki in September and appear in Espoo and Tampere, another two major cities of Finland. Over the winter, the electric vehicles will face inclement winter street conditions.