Welcome to the Future – Smart Shuttle, Sion, Switzerland



Taking a stroll through Sion we came across something amazing. A self-driving bus. It was literally a future standing in front of us. We have to admit, at first we were confused. Is it even possible? How does it work? We decided to take a closer look, and we opened the door, realized there are people’s stuff still sitting on the bus. Purses, mobile phones, all of the thing you would usually never leave unattended. Are Swiss people really that trusting? Well, we guess they are because this left us speechless.
Soon enough, professionals who could tell us more about this unbelievably innovative technology came and gave us a tour through the city.
Sion’s Smart Shuttle is the first self-driving public bus in the world. It has been serving Sion’s citizens and tourists who come to visit since June 2016. The driverless bus is at the same time smart, efficient and adorable. It is the result of French-Swiss collaboration. Navya, Smart Shuttle’s manufacturer comes from France, while Swiss Lausanne-based start-up BestMile provided the idea, project, and technology.
The vehicle is entirely electrical, it has 11 seats and travels at a speed of 20 km/h. It can reach the speed of 45 km/h, but since it is traveling through city’s Old Town with a lot of pedestrians, that isn’t safe nor necessary. The best thing is the fact that the drive is free of charge.
This distinctive yellow bus can navigate roads accurately, identify obstacles and read road signs by only using math and algorithms. You would expect that some form of artificial intelligence would be implemented in this kind of technology, but that is not the case. As much as Swiss are trusting when it comes to other people, they seem to distrust the AI.


Is it really driverless?


Space shuttle drives on its own using a special fleet management system, but there is still a person who travels with the bus to ensure the shuttle is in perfect working order. This person is called safety driver, even though you could call him a manager or bus coordinator as well, because his responsibilities include applying the emergency brakes if necessary, taking over the drive if there is an obstacle the bus cannot handle on its own and providing information and assistance where needed to passengers.



How does it work?

As we traveled to narrow streets that would be a challenge even for an experienced human driver, we wondered, how does the bus know when to avoid obstacles?
All of the tours and city maps are previously installed on the vehicle. However, that is not enough. There are sensors on top of the bus and all four of its sides. The bus has an obstacle detection of 360 degrees. It sends the light beams 200 meters ahead of itself, but it efficiently detects barriers that are 100 meters away. The light beam bounces of the obstacle and sends the signal back to the bus, which can then adjust its route. When it detects the objects on its sides, it transmits the light beam of 50 meters, but it works efficiently on 30 meters.
If someone starts walking in front of the shuttle, blocking its way, the bus won’t stop. However, it will slow down and follow the pedestrian’s pace, which means this vehicle is able even to recognize the speed in which the people around it are moving.
If you would like to try out Sion’s Smart Shuttle on your own, you can catch it from Tuesday till Sunday, in afternoon hours, which is regularly from 1-6 PM, except for the Wednesday when the drive starts at 3 PM and finishes at 7 PM.
We hope you will have a chance to try out this unique experience and feel the future of public transport for yourself. However, if you would like to check it out first, you can do it in our latest YouTube video.



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