Sun, Aug 06, 2017 - Page 3 News List

‘Smart’ bus passes tests with positive reviews

Staff writer, with CNA

Taipei Deputy Mayor Charles Lin, third left, and others pose in front of an autonomous bus on Taipei’s Xinyi Road yesterday.

Photo: CNA

A five-day driverless bus test conducted by the Taipei City Government has received positive feedback from government officials, system developers and members of the public.

“The test has been a success and we will soon begin planning the next stage of the trial, which is to expand on the distance and time traveled,” Taipei Deputy Mayor Charles Lin (林欽榮) said after the first round of tests finished yesterday.

The autonomous bus operated between 1am and 4am from Tuesday until yesterday on a 463m closed section of the exclusive bus lane on Xinyi Road. Mapping data were collected and the vehicle demonstrated an ability to detect changes to environmental conditions, Lin said.

Equipped with lidar sensors, which measure the distance to a n obejct with a pulsing laser light, the vehicle was able to differentiate between movement and reflections off glass, he said.

The next step is to trail the bus along the length of the Xinyi Road bus lane and conduct further experiments during the day to see how the bus adapts, Lin said.

Long-term, the bus is expected to operate alongside regular buses to meet passenger demand at specific times, such as late at night or during rush hour, he said.

However, to reach that stage, more advanced infrastructure has to be introduced, Department of Information Technology director Lee Wei-bin (李維斌) said.

The city government will first apply to the National Communications Commission for a frequency band, Lee said.

Traffic lights would use the frequency to send the “smart” bus “stop” signals in addition to the bus reading conditions through embedded cameras, he said.

“The goal is to have all driverless bus-related technology and infrastructure tested to see how it fits our streets within one year,” Lee said.

The vehicle used in the test was provided by France-based driverless shuttle manufacturer EasyMile.

Martin Ting (丁彥允), the president of 7Starlake Co, which represents EasyMile in Taiwan, said the market prospects for driverless buses in Taiwan are promising.

The project would include local manufacturers which are already capable of producing some key components of the vehicle, such as its IT panels, routers, motors and battery management systems, Ting said.

Ting said he was optimistic that half of the vehicle’s components could be made in Taiwan within the next 12 to 18 months.

One technology not accessible to Taiwanese developers is the advanced lidar sensor technology, but Ting said his company is working with local universities to experiment with other possibilities.

The successful test was not only a boost for the government and the industry, but also an experience for passengers.

“The autonomous vehicle was not as terrifying as I imagined,” 22-year-old Wang Tsuang-wei (王宗偉) said, adding that everything seemed under control during the short trip.

Borough Warden Ou Hsiu-chu (歐秀珠) said she felt the system was safe, but needed to see more evidence that the bus could react correctly to traffic lights — a variable that was not included in the five-day test.

Ou and others said they were not sure if the “smart” bus would be well-received by the public, or if the 12-passenger vehicle is a practical solution to Taipei’s traffic problems.

“We are so used to forcing ourselves into buses,” Ou said. “I don’t think people will remain orderly when getting into the bus, especially when there’s no driver inside.”

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