The Bus Industry is Finally Getting an Autonomous Facelift

The Bus Industry is Finally Getting an Autonomous Facelift

What’s the state of autonomous vehicles? To find out, the Autotech Council—a Silicon Valley-based ecosystem of automobile industry players—held an industry gathering. The half-day event, hosted by Western Digital, brought together 300 leaders in the autonomous vehicle industry. We partnered with SiliconANGLE, a leading digital media platform, to spend a few minutes talking with a select group of these leaders. Watch the latest expert interview here.

To build better public transportation systems, the time has come to rethink one of the oldest ways of getting around town, buses.

But, we don’t just mean the use of electricity and hydrogen to reduce vehicle emissions from bus fleets. There are a host of new technologies at the disposal of automobile engineers, from artificial intelligence to machine learning to computer vision. With these tools, autonomous vehicles aim to transport people, groceries, and other cargo.

Not everyone relies on at-your-service transportation, however. For those who use public transportation to get around, the benefits of self-driving vehicles have been slower to develop. Now, an autonomous vehicle startup with design roots in Italy is poised to transform how people travel in towns and cities. The company’s name, appropriately, is NEXT Future Transportation.

A “Living” System of Autonomous Pods

As CEO of NEXT, Emmanuele Spera sees buses as a valuable asset that’s used at a rate far below its potential. He points out that buses “have a high demand in peak time”, but much lower usage low usage off-peak when demand is low. In other words, Emmanuele sees buses as empty most of the time.

To try to close the gap between bus supply and demand, NEXT took a novel approach: splitting up a bus into six compartments that each operate autonomously. Think of this creation as a hybrid between a small train and an autonomous car. Emmanuele describes his team’s work in the video clip below.

Using AI to Predict Passenger Journeys

Creating fully autonomous vehicles at scale means solving not just thousands of problems, but literally millions and billions of vehicle issues and driving scenarios. There may be light at the end of the tunnel, though. Artificial intelligence could take on these challenges by predicting passenger journeys: where passengers are going, when they need to arrive, and what stops they need to make.

At NEXT, the team also sees challenges of communication between the swarm of self-driving vehicle modules. With AI, this smart transportation system might be able to predict traffic flow and passenger destination information. Then, the system could always keep itself at the highest level of passenger usage. Emmanuele goes into detail in the video clip below.

Whether or not buses are transformed into fleets of autonomous vehicle modules remains to be seen. But, the work of Emmanuele and the team at NEXT just goes to show that autonomous vehicles have untapped applications to transform how people get from place to place.


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