Self-Driving Shuttle Service Begins Testing In London

A prototype shuttle bus is about to hit the streets of London...without a driver.

Oxbotica autonomous shuttle in London
Oxbotica

London is known for its double-decker buses, but a very different kind of bus is about to hit the streets of the British capital. A company called Oxbotica will run tests of a self-driving shuttle service over the next three weeks, involving 100 people who volunteered to ride in a small driverless bus. 

Oxbotica hopes to acclimate people to having autonomous vehicles in their midst, and to gauge how passengers respond to using the robo-bus, boss Graeme Smith told the BBC.

The single bus that will be used in the test has a top speed of 10 miles per hour, and operates without any human control under normal conditions. As with most public tests of autonomous vehicles, a human operator will be onboard in case something goes wrong. The vehicle has no steering wheel or pedals, but there is some form of kill switch for said person to hit.

The vehicle only seats four people, and will operate along a two-mile route near London's O2 Arena. Crucially, that route is shared with pedestrians and cyclists, giving Oxbotica a chance to test the bus' collision-avoidance capabilities. Five cameras and three laser units scan the area around the vehicle, including up to 328 feet ahead.

The London test program follows an Oxbotica autonomous-driving demonstration in the U.K. city of Milton Keynes last year. That test involved small autonomous "pod" cars, which drove on a 0.6-mile loop.

While autonomous passenger cars get most of the attention, this isn't the first experiment with an autonomous bus. French company Navya recently deployed one in Las Vegas, and Local Motors has demonstrated a similar design called Olli. Elon Musk also mentioned an autonomous bus in his sprawling "Master Plan, Part Deux" for Tesla.