Driverless electric bus takes to the road at UWA

University of WA vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater and safety operator Arnaud Lago are all aboard the electric shuttle bus being used and tested on the campus from this Sunday.  Picture: Jon Bassett.
University of WA vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater and safety operator Arnaud Lago are all aboard the electric shuttle bus being used and tested on the campus from this Sunday. Picture: Jon Bassett.

RADAR and GPS are the technological magic keeping a driverless shuttle bus on course during free rides and testing for a week at University of WA in Crawley from this weekend.

“The university of the future looks like this, where we’d expected to see more integrated artificial intelligence and robotics,” Vice-chancellor Dawn Freshwater said at its launch yesterday.

Up to 14 passengers at a time will be able to ride the $250,000 shuttle, built and operated by French company EasyMile and using Telstra’s communications network, on the campus.

The shuttle will go from the university’s Reid Library to its Business School at Open Day this Sunday.

Students who have built their own driverless and electric vehicles will examine the shuttle and tests its passengers’ reactions to it having no driver when it expands its routes around the campus next week.

Professor Freshwater said similar vehicles could be used in the future to connect the campus with research facilities at the expanding QEII Hospital site and the university’s school in Claremont.

The shuttle bus can reach speeds up to 40km/h, and there is an 80-strong fleet operating commercially around the world.

Its speed will be limited to 5km/h at the university, although it can travel up to 20km/h remotely.

Shuttle safety officer Arnaud Lago will stay aboard the vehicle, which he said was guided by Lidar-type radar on the roof and sensors on its bumpers, while it is at Crawley.

“We have a safety officer, then emergency stop buttons, and the safety chain is independent from the software,” Mr Lago said.

Driverless transport was not feared by passenger and Business School student Heng Quan, but he saw another problem with the shuttle.

“It’s too slow. I can walk faster, but I do trust the technology,” he said.