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A Slow Ride Toward the Future of Public Transportation

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A self-driving electric bus in Helsinki, Finland.

A self-driving electric bus is undergoing testing in Helsinki, Finland.

Credit: Ugri Touko Tapani Hujanen/The New York Times

A self-driving electric bus relying on laser sensors, global-positioning systems, and software is undergoing testing in Helsinki, Finland.

The two-year, $1.2-million Sohjoa project is backed by researchers at several universities with cooperation and money from government agencies and the European Union.

The researchers say the proliferation of autonomous public transportation will reduce street congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. "A good possible outcome is that less and less people will own personal vehicles in the cities because they really don't need them anymore," says Sohjoa project coordinator Harri Santamala.

The buses do not have a steering wheel, or brake or accelerator pedals. During testing a person is stationed on the bus, which holds up to 12 people, and they can hit an emergency "stop" button if necessary.

Santamala notes the Sohjoa buses drive very slowly and also are restricted in terms of lateral movement due to safety concerns.

The buses, which are not as sophisticated as those being developed by Google and other companies, are "taught" a route by having operators drive them using steering and acceleration controls on a small box. The routes are then further fine-tuned using software.

Santamala says the goal is to establish a real bus route in the next two years.

From The New York Times
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