If anybody had any lingering doubts whether the autonomous vehicle revolution is really a thing, rest assured, it is indeed a thing. And it’s inexorably barreling forward at a rate that seems to be picking up speed week over week.
To wit, we recently reported on the NAVYA driverless buses currently testing, and rolling out for public consumption later this year, in Switzerland; not to mention the leaps and bounds by which the likes of Volvo and Tesla have been advancing of late.
And now it turns out that Northern California is about to dive head first into the driverless bus arena later this year as well.
In a coincidence of both nomenclature and geolocation too weird to believe, the company behind San Ramon, California’s forthcoming driverless buses is called EasyMile. If this sounds familiar, that’s because the software underpinning the aforementioned Swiss buses is built by a company called BestMile. That’s not what’s weird. What’s weird is that both companies are French: the former based in Lyon, the latter, in Toulouse. Either way, you can be sure they are both stocked with some phenomenal wines come lunch time. And you thought your company had good perks with your Michelin-rated chef.
So it turns out that the Contra Costa Transit Authority decided way back in October 2014 that it wanted to build an autonomous vehicle testing ground. GoMentum Station was thus christened, and since then, CCTA has partnered with the likes of Honda and other manufacturers to experiment to their heart’s content in this de facto autonomous vehicle playground.
Slated for launch this summer, however, is CCTA’s new Shared Driverless Vehicles (SDV) program for which CCTA has partnered with EasyMile to bring two of their EZ10 driverless buses to an office park called Bishop Ranch. (San Ramon is about thirty minutes east of Oakland in the San Francisco Bay Area).
Although limited solely to the private property of the office park, this nevertheless marks the first such driverless bus platform on US soil. Worthy of note, however, is that EasyMile has been testing their buses in France, Spain, Finland, Switzerland (no surprise there), and the Netherlands.
The CCTA’s long-term goal is to eventually help develop a “smart city” where car ownership becomes as obsolete a concept as horse ownership: to wit, these driverless buses are not meant to replace mass transit options, but rather to supplement them by enabling people to get to them from their homes.
At first blush, these buses seem similar to the Swiss NAVYA buses in the sense that they will operate only on private property (the NAVYA buses operate on small private parks) and rely on both internal maps of the grounds as well as external sensors for detecting obstacles like buildings, people, and, presumably, skunks.
Unclear, however, is the nature or extent of human control over the buses. While the NAVYA buses cannot be directly controlled by humans, their remote operators can reprogram their general path, rather like setting waypoints in your GPS.
These questions and more will hopefully be answered soon as we’ll do our best to get in touch with the CCTA or EasyMile; speaking of whom, if any of you are reading this, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any comments!