In testing their self-driving cars and aggregating data for them, tech companies all use special test facilities. The cars memorize the lay of the facility, some of the obstacles and such, but always get a fresh challenge thrown at them in the end. If a self-driving car prototype can memorize the layout of a small test city, then why couldn't a self-driving bus memorize the layout and usual obstacles of an actual city? That is exactly the question that transit authorities in Helsinski, Finland posed, and promptly answered by saying, "It can".
The Finnish capital is set to start up a month-long trial of a fleet of small self-driving buses. The mini-buses will only carry a few people at a time, and won't have to worry about the usual risks associated with a bus, such as wide turns and gigantic blind spots. Between the compact design of the buses and the smarts that they hold inside, authorities feel that the fleet is ready to prove itself among normal, human-driven traffic. In the one month trial, the Easymile EZ-10 buses, running fully electric, will shuttle up to 12 people at a time around the city's open roads, but will stay away from private roads, driveways, and the like, much like a normal bus. With the law of the land not requiring a driver, the usual legal song and dance that self-driving vehicles are facing worldwide is not part of the picture, meaning that the buses can hit public streets with impunity.
This public trial for the fleet of small buses comes after a successful round of testing on a closed part of the nearby town of Vantaa, albeit the testing did take place during a housing fair, forcing the buses to compete with the limited traffic drawn by the fair. During the trial, the buses will average around 10 kilometers per hour, with a maximum speed of 40. While this may make them easy targets for reckless drivers and a traffic jam magnet, this is a necessary evil of integrating the buses into real traffic. The buses fit in a supplemental position in the country's larger transit framework, and are an integral part of Helsinski's plan to lessen the need to own a car, by giving citizens access to all kinds of transport, anywhere in the city, at any time.