A Finnish-Japanese collaboration is developing the world’s first autonomous shuttle bus that can operate in all weather conditions, including harsh Nordic winter environments, with on-road testing due to start in the first half of 2018.
Finnish autonomous vehicle developer Sensible 4 has partnered with the Japanese ‘no-brand’ retail company Muji to create the Gacha self-driving shuttle bus, which will be the first in the world that has been designed to function in all weather conditions. Sensible 4 provides the autonomous driving technology that provides the vehicle with accurate positioning, navigation, and obstacle detection capabilities, allowing self-driving throughout the year, regardless of the environment and conditions. Muji brings its famous minimalist design and an enhanced user experience to the vehicle.
The vehicle will be displayed to the public for the first time at a March 2019 launch in Helsinki. After launch, the Gacha shuttle bus will be carrying passengers in three Finnish cities as part of real-life trials in traffic on public roads. Sensible 4 and Muji are finalizing plans for the deployment of the first Gacha fleet, which is expected to roll out in 2020. The aim of the collaboration is to develop autonomous shuttle bus fleets for mainstream use and to provide real transportation services for the public by 2021. Currently, Sensible 4 is looking for industry partners that would be interested in producing the buses, as well as for investors to accelerate the company’s growth.
Weather plays a critical role in opening up the market for autonomous buses. To date heavy rain, fog or snow have prevented autonomous vehicles from driving, with the existing technologies mostly being tested and developed in warm climate conditions. However, Sensible 4 has carried out its automated technology test and validation program under Arctic Lapland conditions, giving the company a unique advantage over other self-driving technologies. All autonomous vehicles will need to be able to drive in various weather conditions before they can be commercially deployed on a wide scale.
The Gacha bus features: a 4WD electric powertrain, maximum operating speed of 25mph (40km/h), and a 16-person capacity, with 10 seats and six standing. The automated driving system includes: four lidar units, eight radars, 360° camera vision, high-precision GPS, an inertia unit, and control over the 4GLTE/5G cellular waveband. As well as its suitability in urban environments, Gacha’s all-weather capabilities mean that the vehicle offers great potential for use in the Scandinavian countryside, where falling birth rates and aging populations are causing mobility problems in rural communities.
“We are developing these vehicles so that they can become part of a daily transportation service chain,” said Harri Santamala, CEO of Sensible 4. “Autonomous vehicles can’t become mainstream until their technology has been insured to work in all climates.”