Transport thinktank thinks piloted buses, not cars are the future

It’s clear from the big push by Google, Baidu and other non-search related tech giants around the world, including almost all of the automotive industry, that the future for cars, at least in the mid-term, is automation. Initially we’ll be getting safety features like autonomous emergency braking, lane assist and blind spot warnings, but in the long term, none of us will be driving. Instead, we’ll be sat behind the non-wheel of cars that can drive themselves, taking us from A-B before parking themselves and waiting for our return.

Not everyone feels that way however. Take Luca Guala, head of transport thinktank Mobility Thinklab. He thinks that automated cars are not the future at all, but automated buses. His reasoning? Efficiency.

“Driverless cars very likely have a bright future, but cars they will always be. They may be able to go and park themselves out of harm’s way, they may be able to do more trips per day, but they will still need a 10 ft wide lane to move a flow of 3600 persons per hour,” he said via BusinessInsider.

“In fact, the advantage of robotic drivers in an extra-urban setting may be very interesting, but their advantages completely fade away in an urban street, where the frequent obstacles and interruptions will make robots provide a performance that will be equal, or worse than, that of a human driver, at least in terms of capacity and density.”


Say goodbye

Buses do indeed carry more people for the same trade off in space. In the same square metrage that a few cars can carry (say, 15 people) buses can carry more than double that. A single larger engine is likely to be more efficient that a lot of smaller ones as well, though chances are any future automated bus system will use much more efficient means of propulsion than today’s petrol or diesel engines.

Buses could also be cheaper, Guala suggested, pointing out that without the cost of a human driver involved, suddenly bus transportation becomes incredibly cheap for the company running it, which should in turn mean it can offer a cheaper service to potential passengers, making it more cost efficient for them as well.

“This allows them to serve efficiently and economically low-demand routes and time bands, while allowing [agencies] to concentrate the number of manned buses on high demand routes at little added cost,” Guala said.

Buses also follow set routes, making the automation aspect a lot easier than with cars, which would need to be able to handle many different roadway situations. While any fully automated vehicle would need to have pedestrian, animal and object avoidance, to prevent it running into someone accidentally, the technology need not be as advanced as others, since the bus is unlikely to be doing more than 40 miles per hour at any point in the journey.

This of course makes automated public transport like this much less versatile over longer distances or in emergencies, so chances are there will still be automated cars and indeed manual ones in the future, though it could be that with low cost public transport eating up much of the world’s transport needs, that owning your own car would become even more expensive than it is today.

Especially when you factor in insurance. If you think it’s expensive now, just imagine it when you’re the only one on the road that needs it.

Image source: Kecko

    Jon Martindale

    Jon Martindale is an English author and journalist, who's written for a number of high-profile technology news outlets, covering everything from the latest hardware and software releases, to hacking scandals and online activism.

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