Greece rolls out driverless bus pilot program. Is it a viable option?

Driverless technology is still a mysterious technology – consumers are interested in it, but don't know a lot about it. Will Greece's driverless bus program educate and alleviate concerns?

Thanassis Stavrakis/AP Photo/File
Local residents pass-by the tiny CityMobil2 driverless bus in Trikala town, Greece.

A town in Greece is being afforded a possible glimpse into the future: driverless buses.

The pilot program, using French-built CityMobil2 busses, is being tested in Trikala, a tiny town north of Athens. The vehicles have already been tested successfully under controlled conditions in Switzerland, France, Norway, and Finland, producing no vehicular accidents. The stated goal of the program is to revolutionize mass transportation and to wean European cities off of oil within the next thirty years, according to the Associated Press.

In order to get the program to work in Trikala, the Greek government amended its laws to allow the tests, and Trikala also had to build dedicated bus lanes. Trikala is the first town in Europe to be testing the driverless buses under real-world traffic conditions.

"There were cities bidding for this project all over Europe. They offered relatively restricted urban areas. But we said we could make it happen in a downtown environment and we won," Odisseas Raptis, who heads the city's digital project department, e-Trikala, told the AP.

The buses will be tested without human passengers first. In order to increase safety, the buses, normally controlled by GPS and additional sensors such as lasers and cameras, can be overridden by a human operator if something goes wrong. Should the trials be successful, the battery-powered busses will hold up to ten passengers at a time and run free of charge.

In the United States, Google’s private research lab Google X is exploring driverless technology that will put driverless cars in the hands of consumers. They are still working on improving the vehicles, but in extensive testing, the cars have not caused any accidents.

Regarding the driverless bus program in Trikala, senior transport analyst Philippe Crist at the International Transport Forum, told AP that it’s too soon to say for sure where trends in transportation are headed, but he is optimistic.

"We too often look at technological changes in isolation," said Mr. Crist. "There is a good chance that these technologies will create entirely new uses that we can only poorly grasp today. The reality is that everything is changing around these technologies and it is plausible that society may lose interest in owning cars or using fixed-service public transport – especially if these technologies allow better alternatives to emerge."

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