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Driverless Buses: Are Robots Coming for Your Bus Driver’s Job?

While waiting for a long-delayed bus to arrive, you might worry about the traffic or the weather — or grumble about the bus driver’s obvious lack of concern for your morning meeting schedule. But do you ever worry that a robot could be behind the wheel?
driverless buses
Courtesy of the University of Michigan

You might need to start. The latest job for the robot army that’s obviously coming to automate every facet of our lives is: bus driving. But what does this mean for you?

Driverless Buses Are the Future (Kinda)

Mcity at the University of Michigan is the current site of something creepy or cool, depending on your feelings about robots: a driverless shuttle bus.

There’s no seat, no steering wheel, and no person seemingly operating the 15-passenger shuttle. This little fella goes from point A to B to take riders on a set route with nary a driver in sight. While researchers from French company NAVYA have spent more than a year perfecting the technology in a closed setting, they recently announced that the shuttle will be hitting the roads of campus later this fall, taking students along a two-mile route that university officials deemed worthy of the pilot program.

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Previously, NAVYA tested an autonomous shuttle along Las Vegas’ famed Fremont Street in January, chugging along several blocks at no more than 15 mph.

In April 2017, visitors to Greenwich, London were also able to ride a driverless bus as a part of a pilot program tested by firm Oxbotica near the O2 Arena. While the vehicle didn’t have a driver, per se, it did have a human person available on board who could stop it in an emergency. Kind of like a robot-sitter.

This program, designed to help bridge transportation gaps, might be rolled out as a permanent program as early as 2019, which leaves a while to get used to the idea of autonomous buses.

You might rail against the bus driver when they're running late, but are you ready for the robot revolution? Click To Tweet

The Future Isn’t Here Yet

According to PayScale data, the median salary for a bus driver is around $29,000. This is only part of the cost of a traditional gas-guzzling bus and its upkeep. The driverless shuttles being tested are electric. It’s true that an employer doesn’t have to pay a driverless bus a salary, or overtime, or healthcare, or a pension, so budget-strapped municipalities might like that very much.

What they still might not feel comfortable with is the fact that the human element is also pretty darn reliable for the most part. Human drivers react quickly to other drivers cutting them off, children darting out into traffic, and (occasionally) someone running up late to try and make their bus. That’s all pretty good, and still a challenge when it comes to programming robots to do a person’s job. So we’re still a ways off from doing away with all of the bus drivers of the world. And that’s OK by me.

Tell Us What You Think!

Would you be OK with a driverless bus ride? We want to hear from you! Comment below or join the discussion on Twitter!


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