SANTIAGO – The first self-driving vehicle in operation in Latin America is an electric minibus that carts people around Santiago’s O’Higgins Park.
Quieter than a vacuum cleaner, the red bus can carry up to 12 passengers from the O’Higgins metro station to the park’s Olympic-sized indoor poor.
The bus covers the 1-kilometer (0.6-mile) route at the sedate pace of 12 km/h (7.5 mph).
The company behind the project, Transdev Chile, launched the service in the park at the end of last year to showcase what it sees as the future of urban mobility in Latin America.
The prototype bus is designed to put safety first. A dove flying across its path or a jogger who comes too close is enough to activate the breaks.
Transdev’s head of strategy, Lluis Vidal, explained the vehicle’s operating principle to EFE: “It will never have to make ethical choices, it will always stop before that.”
“There has never been an autonomous vehicle in Latin America, that’s already a milestone. It’s a vehicle that has neither steering wheel, nor peddles, nor driver,” he said. “When you tell it where it needs to go, it decides at every moment how and where to move, at what speed and how it interacts with the environment.”
“This vehicle is a box surrounded by sensors and what they do is interpret the environment. It also has a set of other sensors that allow it to know exactly where it is,” the Transdev official said.
The bus has four sensors just above ground level placed at each corner, two more at mid-level on both the front and rear, and more on the roof.
“These vehicles are extremely safe. Its objective No. 1, 2 and 3 is to be safe,” Vidal said.
As to whether the prototype could one day replace existing urban bus lines, he said that Transdev currently has 56 similar operations up and running on four continents, carrying some 450,000 passengers.
The obvious application for the bus would be in dense urban environments, Vidal said.
“In the center of a city at rush hour, a vehicle can’t go faster than 15 km/h. It (the bus) can co-exist perfectly with pedestrians, cyclists and other vehicles,” he said.
“It’s like a chameleon, it sees simultaneously in all directions and it never tires. It can be viable at the level of safety in city centers,” Vidal said.