The French-speaking city of Sion in canton Valais is undergoing a transportation revolution – it is to be the first place in Switzerland with driverless buses. (SRF/swissinfo.ch)
Two autonomous buses are set to do the rounds, firstly without passengers in a closed off area. Next spring, passengers will also be able to hop onboard. For a two-year trial period, the buses carrying up to nine passengers each will cover tourist routes in Sion's Old Town.
The shuttle system is the brainchild of BestMile, founded in 2014 by former students at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL). The start-up developed the software that controls the vehicles run by the Swiss bus company Postauto in Sion. The idea is to monitor the vehicles in the same way that aircraft are controlled from an airport control tower.
Autonomous vehicles use technologies such as GPS, radar, lidar sensors, which measure distance by illuminating a target with a laser and analysing the reflected light, and odometry, the use of data from motion sensors. Control systems interpret sensory information to find navigation paths, follow signs and avoid obstacles.
Before introducing the shuttles in Sion, BestMile tested the technology on the EPFL campus. The company now hopes to expand the service to other cities and remote areas, which are often poorly served by public transport.