A pair of autonomous buses have begun trials on the public roads of Helsinki, Finland. The buses will be taking part in one of the world's first autonomous vehicle trials to be run on public roads, where they must navigate their way around other traffic and pedestrians, while obeying traffic lights and following the correct route.
Finland can take advantage of the booming autonomous vehicle industry because its road laws do not require vehicles to have a driver. A similar law in the UK means our public roads can also be used to test autonomous vehicles.
"This is actually a really big deal right now," said Harri Santamala, leader of the test and project manager at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences. "There's no more than a handful of these kinds of street traffic trials taking place, if that", he told Finish news site Uutiset.
Built in France and called EasyMile, the 12-passenger buses were previously tested on closed roads in the nearby city of Vantaa. But the pilot in Hernesaari, on the southern edge of Helsinki, will present a far greater challenge.
As well as the buses having to deal with navigating around unpredictable humans, drivers prone to road rage will have to keep their cool when following the buses, which have an average speed of just 10km/h (6mph). Their maximum speed is a more traffic-friendly 40km/h.
The buses are intended to cover 'the last mile' of a journey, such as navigating a car park, or taking passengers from the entrance of a train station to the required platform.
Santamala explained: "Their purpose is to supplement but not to replace [the existing bus network]. For example, the goal could be to use them as a feeder service for high-volume bus or metro traffic ... In other words, the minibus would know when the connecting service is coming and it would get you there on time."
The trials in Helsinki will last until mid-September, while other trials with the EasyMile bus have already taken place at a Japanese shopping centre and in Dubai.