The United States will soon have its first self-driving buses that use public roads. Cities like Jacksonville and Las Vegas already have self-driving shuttles in operation, but they use their own designated lanes. Later this year, self-driving buses will be operating in Gainesville, Florida using the roads we all drive on.
The buses fit twelve people and were designed by the European autonomous vehicle company EasyMile. Two buses are currently being tested in Gainesville, and the tests will continue into the summer. Once they're in operation, they'll each be covering four-mile areas of the town and will operate 24 hours a day.
The buses can go up to 30 miles per hour but will only be traveling at around 15 miles per hour due to safety concerns. There will be someone ready to operate the vehicle at all times in case something goes wrong. Gainesville plans to have two buses operating at a time while one bus is charging.
The city started planning its self-driving bus program back in 2018 but had to put it on pause due to a government shutdown and some other issues. At the time, Gainesville's Assistant City manager Dan Hoffman offered some details on what the city's residents can expect.
"It is free during the pilot phase, during the three years we are testing it, it's free," Hoffman said. "For the first phase, there will be a safety operator on board just making sure it runs properly, doing testing, answering questions for people who ride it. But it is a fully autonomous shuttle which will operate in mixed traffic in downtown Gainesville between the downtown and the University of Florida."
Gainesville has a population of around 130,000, so it's a good size for testing out these buses. EasyMile announced in August of last year that it's doing a pilot shuttle program at Austin's international airport, and in November the company announced it will test out its shuttles in Northern Virginia.
Even though there will be people ready to take control of these buses if something goes wrong, that doesn't mean there won't be safety concerns. After all, a self-driving Uber that had someone in it who was ready to take control if they needed to ended up killing someone in Arizona in 2018.
That's the only time a self-driving car has ever killed a pedestrian, but the fact it was a self-driving car with someone in it means that the system isn't foolproof. That said, over 6,000 pedestrians were struck and killed by vehicles operated by humans in 2018 alone, so it's not like pedestrians are safe walking on the street as long as there aren't any self-driving vehicles on them.
Assuming everything goes well in Gainesville, we will likely start seeing these kinds of autonomous shuttles popping up all over the country in the near future. If something goes terribly wrong in Gainesville, we might not be seeing them cruising around our city streets for a while. Don't mess this up, Gainesville.