The world is becoming increasingly automated, and a new self-driving bus in Finland is evidence of this. Beginning in the fall of 2017, the Finnish capital will launch a new autonomous electric “RoboBusLine.” According to the City of Helsinki the line “represents a shift from an experimental phase to regular, scheduled public transit service with self-driving buses.” Not only will the self-driving vehicles reduce the costs of transportation and improve access to public transit – they will also reduce the amount of cars that are on the road and slash emissions.

In August of 2016, the Sohjoa project (an EU-financed initiative by the six largest cities in Finland, Finnish universities and transportation authorities) launched two EasyMile EZ10 electric minibuses in Helsinki. Reportedly, the initiative is part of the EU-financed mySMARTLife program, in which European cities are encouraged to develop energy-efficient mobility to reduce energy consumption in cities by 10-15 percent.

So far, the electric minibuses have been tested in real traffic conditions – and they will continue to be monitored in urban areas until August 2017. Each bus has an operator on board in case of an emergency and travels at about 7 mph (11 km per hour), learning the route and accruing knowledge as it transits. Said Sohjoa project manager, Oscar Nissin of Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, “We focus on a number of aspects including sensor technology, user experience, and how to complement overall public transit services with self-driving buses.”

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The Sohjoa self-driving buses will shuttle passengers from Helsinki’s Mustikkamaa recreational island to Helsinki Zoo in July-August. The trials pave the way for the RoboBus to be launched later in the year. Project leader and Metropolia’s smart mobility program director, Harri Santamala, explained that the “RoboBus will allow us to test operation in everyday public transit conditions. It will be used to study the long-term operability of self-driving buses and customer behavior.

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Finland is an ideal location for a self-driving bus to launch, as the country’s law does not state that a vehicle has to have a driver. Additionally, autonomous buses could offer a solution to a persistent problem in Helsinki: transporting riders from a regular public transit stop to their homes. A press release says, “Automated, remote-controlled bus service could markedly reduce the costs of the last-mile service and improve access to public transit. The ultimate goal is to increase public transit use and so to reduce cars and needs to drive in the city.”

Because the electric minibus is in a competitive bid process, the route, its launch date, and schedule will be announced at a later time.

+ Helsinki RoboBusLine

Image via Helsinki RoboBusLine