Autonomous Vehicles

Published on November 9th, 2014 | by Cynthia Shahan


Self-Driving Buses Could Really Reinvent Transportation Systems

November 9th, 2014 by  

Congested cities, troubling unemployment due to the absence of transit, and environmental issues from automobile pollution all point towards the need for much greater development of mass transportation. Even as transit ridership is growing to all time highs, the US is short on extensively developed systems that reach the many who could benefit from affordable transit.

While the idea of self-driving cars has excited millions, a recent Quartz article points to the use of self-driving buses as opposed to self-driving cars.

Self-driving cars will improve as technology is improved. At this time, the glitches and problems of the autonomous cars tested show the drivers are still needed. Situations such as road construction are not handled and the need for an extensive system of very detailed maps is daunting. The question is do individuals really need large pieces of steel and metal separating them from everyone else — or is there a more advanced means of transit that better suits our needs.

google self driving car prototype

Greg Lindsey and Anthony Townsend clarify nicely that we are looking at the wrong issue. They note: “Google’s greatest shortcoming isn’t its technology, but how it has defined America’s transportation challenge. Our public transportation systems are running near historic highs in ridership, while using technology and business models from the 19th century. We should be upgrading these, not trying to fix America’s auto-dependent suburbs.”

Well, yes, US public policy needs to look at public transportation and get it to and in the suburbs as well. Urban sprawl combined with inadequate transit infrastructure, as I just wrote, has created isolation and paralysis of unemployment. The shallow stigma in this country of the bus needs to change and change fast. In Latin America, things are moving with bus rapid transit. The systems are energy-efficient, cheap, and more flexible. Large numbers of commuters now use these convenient buses in Latin America avoiding cars.

Lindsey and Townsend continue that rather than cars, self-driving buses might be on an avenue of increasing change. They may change perceptions. “Now what if those buses—like the private automobile “platoons” envisioned by the auto industry—could travel safely only feet apart at top speeds?”

Quartz points out a study and recent estimate for Princeton University indicating that with autonomous buses “the bus lanes of the Lincoln Tunnel, connecting New York City to New Jersey, could accommodate over 200,000 passengers per hour, more than five times today’s throughput.”

London Bus Lightspeed

London Bus Lightspeed


A Guardian article, “Buses are the future of urban transport. No, really,” offers a hardy agreement with any effort to increase bus use. The Guardian notes that Enrique Peñalosa, former mayor of Bogotá, brought about a sweet revision of stereotypes. It points out that he is “the man fond of defining an advanced city, not as ‘one where the poor move about in cars [but] where even the rich use public transportation.’ ”

With all of this said, self-driving cars are coming into view. Technology will advance, and self-driving cars will improve, computing power will unfold and increase. Other than Google many breeds of self-driving cars are emerging. Recently, California and Nevada granted autonomous licenses. Audi, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors’ Cadillac division, Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk unveiled the Model D, an electric sedan with semi-autonomous features. Here is a post by Gas2 with a video of BMW making autonomous driving look fun. Let’s just hope that with self-driving cars, or even ahead of them, self-driving buses come along and make transit look even cooler than it already is.

Related Articles:

Google Self-Driving Car & Its View (VIDEO)

Electric Buses Overall Best For CO2, Health & Price; Hydrogen Worst

Classy Intercity Buses Make A Comeback

Image Credits: Google; Simon & His Camera (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

is a Mother, an Organic Farmer, Licensed Acupuncturist, Anthropology Studies, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.

  • Kirk Hilles

    Well, first off, I think we’ll be in “semi” automated mode for a long time. This will make highway drives super-easy, but getting a completely automated machine that will work 100% of the time is a lot farther way than we (and Google) think.

    However, once that happens, everything will change in the automotive world. There will be a whole host of Uber-like services where you will “summon” a vehicle using a monthly service. Whether that is a tiny subcompact vehicle or a luxury-limo-like vehicle will depend on what you are willing to pay for. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a cheap option where a shuttle bus sized vehicle will pick you and some people nearby that are heading in the same direction as you. We may finally have a reasonable ride-sharing system that’s available whenever you need it.

    I think it’ll work well with the electric vehicle trend. It’ll be exciting times, but expect the industry to be in rapid decline after that point as the number of vehicles on the road decrease and independent mechanics are replaced by mass repair stations owned by these mobile companies.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    Actually not just self-driving buses, but self-driving and self-charging electric buses and trucks will transform transportation. With electric transportation variable costs are close to zero and robots do not mind about frequent charging breaks.

  • MrL0g1c

    As much as I’d love to see autonomous cars etc:

    LINK :Driving in Circles – Slate

    The technology will be later rather than sooner, tech sector loves to say how AI will actually be intelligent soon, but they’ve been saying that for decades, things looked close in the 90’s with the advent of ever more powerful computer chips, but the technology requires a breakthrough, a breakthrough that may never happen or maybe just not this century.

    • Offgridman

      I will agree with you that real artificial intelligence is very far in the future. The ability of a computer to do deductive reasoning from a minimum of information the way the human mind can will not be possible until we can actually understand how we do it ourselves.
      However for inductive reasoning or the repetition of repeated actions, the computer mind has already been seen to be superior, as can be seen by the robotic assemblers in factories, or the delivery of the best advertising by your favorite websites.
      This is what will be expected of the autonomous busses, just as referred to in the article you referenced on the Google cars, to follow the same route time after time, yet notice any deviations in order to avoid accidents, which machines will be able to do much better than people.
      Will they be totally autonomous, in that we can jump in and tell them where we want to go? Of course not. Will they do the best job of following a repetitive route and noticing any differences to prevent harm to their passengers? Of course.

      • MrL0g1c

        I disagree, roads have road works and rubbish and animals and pedestrians and cyclists and bad weather. Simple computer systems can not handle these things. The bus service you mention would be a nuisance because it would be out of service half the time due to something being different. More to the point it could be quite dangerous to others on the road, due to it’s lack of being able to recognise things.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The Google cars have been handling this sort of thing very successfully for some time, over 700,000 miles. They rely on a careful mapping of the area in which they operate. While not so feasible for the entire country, this would be feasible for vehicles running fixed or semi-fixed routes.

          And there’s the possibility of remote driving. If the vehicle stops to scratch its head over what to do next someone in a central location could take over driving in the way we now fly non-piloted aircraft.

          • MrL0g1c

            It’s not just the mapping, they have had drivers sitting ready to take control of the car when necessary – and they have at times been necessary. The cars can’t even handle rain, they can’t tell the difference between a large plastic bag floating about and a child or a cyclist. They can’t tell when new traffic lights have been placed. These things are the tip of the iceberg.

            Read the slate article,(LINK :Driving in Circles – Slate) the cars have not been handling normal situations on normal roads at all. I’d love to see autonomous cars be successful but I understand the technology very well and can see that it’s a long way off.

            I guarantee, we will not have autonomous cars 5 years from now.

        • Offgridman

          “Simple computer systems can not handle these things”
          Exactly but we are no longer talking about ‘simple computers’, I am replying to you on a handheld computer that has faster processors and twenty times the memory capacity of the Cray super computer from 35 years ago that required several rooms worth of space. You might want to research Moore’s law to understand how far computing has come and has yet to go in the future.
          These autonomous buses will not only be reliant on on board computing but also tied into the net for for faster processing and constant updates as to conditions. And the latest update by Tesla as to on board sensors shows not only the current capabilities, but allows us to extrapolate how they will be improving in the near future.
          Feel free to disagree if you wish, because I have no reason to try and convince you. Let’s just talk in five or ten years, and see how far this technology has developed.

          • MrL0g1c

            Faster processors does not equal more intelligent processors.

            I fully understand Moore’s law – the number of transistors on a chip doubles approx every 18 months, but that’s been with silicon which is ending the end of the road with regards to ever shrinking transistors because of the laws of physics at that scale.

            Whilst the jumps in chip speed and transistor count have been huge, the increase in AI’s abilities to recognise objects have only made small steps over the last 2 or 3 decades and those steps are more related to our own skill in being able to dream up algorithms that can interpret images.

            I haven’t heard google say anything that leads me to believe that they are anywhere close to solving the incredibly difficult problem of making machines almost as intelligent as humans.

            Autonomous trams that pootle along and stop when there is an object ahead or when they can’t see ahead, sure – no problem. Autonomous vehicles that can make intelligent decisions based upon correctly interpreting the complex images they receive in all weather conditions, that will probably take decades because there are too many extremely difficult unsolved problems.

          • Offgridman

            However Moore’s law also applies to software and coding over the past 30-40 years. It isn’t so obvious here in the US thanks to our pitiful stress on STEM education during the same time, but is happening on a worldwide basis. Why do you think that American corporations have pushed the government into allowing long term visas for workers recently. They need those programmer’s and coders from India, China, and other parts of Asia because the US workforce can’t even provide a quarter of the qualified people needed right now.
            You keep talking about the failings of the Google vehicle, but they aren’t even automotive manufacturers. With the combined efforts of all the vehicle manufacturers world wide, that are already implementing facets of autonomous driving, changes are happening and will continue to do so.
            I am not going to convince you, and your negativity isn’t having any influence on me. So can we just give it five or ten years as I suggested before, and then we will know whose opinion is right on where this aspect of technology is going?

          • Offgridman

            Disqus is screwing up and your reply that was sent to my email is not showing up here, so here is my answer.
            In the first place this is a discussion on self driving busses that will have to follow a single proscribed route. Your trying to make it about fully autonomous cars which I have already agreed that we don’t have the AI capabilities for yet, has nothing to do with whether we can get a bus to follow a route on its own within five or ten years.
            You ‘Moore law does not apply to software’, not in a direct application no, but it has been shown that on a worldwide basis over the past forty years that our software and coding development has improved and increased in the same way with software actually being ahead of chip development.
            “I am not being negative, just realistic”
            This is really a case of you say potatoe, and I say potato.
            We have discussed the various points and I asked if we could just wait five or ten years to see whose opinion ended up being right.
            You come back with the impossibility of autonomous cars once again, which is totally off subject to the busses we are supposed to be talking about.
            If calling something impossible isn’t being negative, then our world views are just to different to establish some understanding.
            Once again, we can discuss this again in five or ten years when we can see where the tech for self driving “busses” has gone.
            Have a great day.

          • MrL0g1c

            I didn’t say autonomous cars are impossible.
            Autonomous cars or buses, the technology is much the same.
            2024, fully autonomous vehicles? Unlikely. I’d love to be wrong, I like autonomous vehicles ASAP. I think all car manufacturers will need to pool resources to get there quicker.

          • Offgridman

            The base technology for an autonomous car or a bus that will follow a route are much the same. GPS connection, various sensors infrared, ultra sonic, actual visual, internet connection, and etc.
            The controlling software are very different. There’s a big difference between a car that a rider gets in and requests widely varying destinations. Compared to a bus that needs to follow the same route of so many miles every day.
            So the variables of people, construction, or even pieces of trash are greatly reduced for what the bus AI will have to deal with as for a totally autonomous car.
            These variables will be even further reduced for a self driving bus because its route will be protected from incursion by other vehicles the same way that the ones driven by people today are off limits to other traffic. As for construction, would it be that hard to have a policy that before any projects are begun that the computers controlling the busses on those routes need to be informed ahead of time?
            Well as I said before, let’s just wait and see.

    • Sparrowish

      It has already happened in aviation, where it is long-standing state-of-the-art — a fact that will soon be unveiled to the general public through the massive use of autonomous commercial drones the carrying capacity of which will quickly increase to a level where payload could as well be humans!

      • MrL0g1c

        There is absolutely no comparison, when is the last time you were in a plane that had to swerve to avoid a dog? When did a plane you were in have to stop at a temporary traffic light? The sky is empty, roads aren’t.

  • JamesWimberley

    Wikipedia has a long page (link) on the various instantiations of this idea around the world, under a great variety of names: black taxi, share taxi, bush taxi, grande taxi, train taxi; coaster bus, carro publico, colectivo, dala-dala, danfo, molue, dolmuş, fula fula, gbaka, jeepney, jitney, kia kia, liinitakso, louage, marshrutka, matatu, micro-bus. public light bus, shuttle van, sherut, songthaew, sotrama, dourouni, tap tap, and tro tro. The standard of service is as variable as the naming.

    Britain has come up with the useful neologism paratransit for demand-responsive public transport.

  • jeff wegerson

    Driverless buses like the driverless elevators before them are all about frequency and density. The denser the environment the greater the need for larger and denser transit. In the suburbs where density is absent the need is for infrequent transit on demand. You don’t want a driverless bus there you want a driverless car to maybe take you to a driverless train perhaps. Or just the mall with the much smaller parking lot.

    • Kevin McKinney

      Yes. I’m a certified suburbanite, and without that car ‘you can’t get there from here’–even when ‘there’ is a critical local transportation hub. Though occasionally you’ll see intrepid souls doing it the ‘old hard way’, on shank’s mare. Talk about extended commuting times…

      And the mandated parking lots are a wastewater and density nightmare that helps kill pedestrianism–huge, and run-off polluting. And in the years the nearest shopping center has been there, I have never once seen that lot even 50% full.

      From a consumer’s perspective, I don’t care about the driverless part; I just want transport that you can hire for less than the cost of a daily car rental. Could the ‘driverless’ part solve that?

  • JamesWimberley

    In many cities in developing countries, jitneys (licensed or not) are as important as regular buses, and go more places.

    The immediate need isn’t so much the driverless part – which destroys jobs and reduces security – as making scheduling more flexible and improving information. Bus stop signs with real-time information about arriving buses are already making a huge difference. Combine that with Google Maps’ information on public transport, and you have the beginnings of intelligent transport. “Siri, get me to Aunt Jemima’s house. No taxis.” Siri: “Walk to Main Street bus stop, 3 minutes. Bus 85 to Elm Street metro station, leaving in 7 minutes. Red Line metro to Rose Street. Walk to destination, estimated arrival 43 minutes.”

    • jeff wegerson

      At least you recognize the irony here of driverless buses taking the recently unemployed bus driver to places where there are still jobs to wait with hundreds of other unemployed in line to fill out an application for the job. But of course there is no need to as the line is online now. Yes indeed utopia will only be for the rich and the fewer and fewer middle class. Or am I paranoid like our commenter above?

      • JamesWimberley

        Yes, you are paranoid, and the robots are really out to get you and your job. Actually I reckon the bus drivers are reasonably safe. No woman would get alone on to an unattended driverless bus at night in any big city apart from Pyongyang. The conductor part of the job is more needed than the driver part.

        • jeff wegerson

          Except the women carrying pepper spray or a hand gun. Or if the bus were as crowded as my metro train at 10pm weekdays. Perception of crime is much much worse than the reality most everywhere. But you likely know that.

          Of course robot replacement of poor and middle-class jobs absolutely accounts for a lot of unemployment or employment less than potential skills and/or desire should account for. And as the use of robots grow, and I mean any labor saving technology, the gains to society should be distributed by other means than work-jobs anyway. The economic gains from those technological improvements should definately not be mostly funneled to the top tenth of one percent super-rich. Etc. Etc. eh?

  • We think driver-less vehicle technology should be deployed for mine clearance use
    Or help monitor poachers in protected areas and game reserves

  • Defendor

    So the lack of drivers is holding back public transit?

    • Offgridman

      Being able to expand mass transit by the areas covered, and the frequency of the of runs on those routes without an equal multiplication of drivers will show a good share of savings. Not only do you need enough drivers to cover the routes, but backups for sick days, vacations, and regular attrition.
      Automated transit can provide a standardized level of service that will help make mass transit more acceptable to all levels of society. Which is what we need to aim for to clean up and decongest our cities. Not having mass transit for the low income people that is obstructed and delayed by everyone else in their cars, as is the problem now.

      • Sparrowish

        See my comment above!

    • Sparrowish

      So much the more astonishing as unemployment of young males (potential bus drivers) will inevitably increase over time with ever more industrial robots, automation and CNC machinery…

      • GuestAug27

        It does not have to. Maybe we are long overdue for a 20-hour work week.

  • Marion Meads

    Ohhh, this will be dream come true for hackers!

    ISIS: Now we can send our enemies to their deaths by the bus load. A simple hacking job should do it!
    Romanians: Better wire us some money through Western Union or we will slam the buses against the wall or over a cliff!
    Obama: Now I can get a busload of supporters to vote for me or else the doors remain locked up. NSA, hey, NSA, you listening? You got a job to do.

    • Ronald Brakels

      Thank the gods none of us have ever been foolish enough to significantly automate our electricity, sewage, water, gas, traffic signaling, telecommunications, financial, chemical manufacturing, nuclear, or weapon systems otherwise we would all be at the mercy of the hackers. Thank goodness that back in the 50s we all decided that cybernetics was for losers.

      • Offgridman

        Thank you for coming up with a rebuttal to her paranoid perspective on the world. While reading it was trying to formulate a response, but being on my first cuppa the brain isn’t clicking fast enough yet.
        My only fear is that your sarcasm might be beyond her comprehension, and your answer will be taken seriously.

        • Ronald Brakels

          Who’s being sarcastic? I’m typing this on the back of a telepathic monkey.

          • Offgridman

            Now that sounds like something handy to have. Have you considered training it to throw poop at those paranoid watcher’s of the FOX network?
            Let me know if it works out and I will definitely send off for one.

          • Ronald Brakels

            My monkey is far too polite to fling poop. He instead uses his mastery of psionic disiplines to instantly teleport the poop to where ever he wants it. However, the end results can be much the same.

            And on cybernetics, here’s an interesting quote I read today about Japan, “Metropolitan Nagoya has literally thousands of people who can write assembly code that you’d literally trust your life to (you have before and will again, unless your sole method of transportation is bicycles), and probably only a few dozen who you’d want working on a web application.”

          • Offgridman

            Oh yes, definitely going to have to get me one of those monkeys, and all the better that it keeps its hands clean while doling out the appropriate justice for the Foxy loxies.

      • Marion Meads

        Thanks for supporting my paranoia. It has been proven that the more you automate, the more attractive and easier it is for hackers to take over and control your key systems. It is an organized crime out there, from the government to the hacker wannabees. I can’t believe the gullibility and the state of denial of a lot of you here. THERE IS NO ABSOLUTE SECURITY with the current type of protocols that we have. Even if we did, we as a species is prone to social engineering hacks. It has been known that the NSA and many countries that are manufacturing devices for computerization and automation have inserted their own chips to spy, take over or control. The NSA itself is full of holes, easily penetrable by moles, and all the backdoor secrets are being traded in the underworld criminal markets out there. We have no hope because of you gullible folks that will continue to fund the tyrants and criminals alike!

        • Ronald Brakels

          Marion, if you find that comedy supports your paranoia you may want to consider just how much utility it is providing you in reality. And comedy is what you will get when you write a comedy post. A serious comment on computer security and terrorism would not need to bring in religions, nationalities, a Disney amusement park attraction, and an American President performing bus mediated kidnapping. Why it’s almost as if you went out of your way to write a comment that would elicit a response that would feed your righteous sense of indignation. If you actually want to know what I think about computer security for reals, you could ask me a straight forward question or two. But you’re probably having more fun doing what you’re doing, so knock yourself out. But I will mention that after reading your original comment, my good friend Admiral Akbar looked very disappointed.

      • jeff wegerson

        I too liked your reply until I realized that the poster indeed is struggling with a flawed world view. So then the question becomes are there those who diabolically purvey such views for their own gain? Some here believe that some billionaires purposely deny what others here believe namely global warming just to make more billions. If the poster is able to change their view based on logic then the flawed view is just that. But if not then there exists the possibility that there is mental capacity lacking. Then one needs to wonder if such poster needs to be treated like a troll?

      • GuestAug27

        We should thank Osama bin Laden for being nice to us on 9/11. Otherwise, we could have had four Chernobyls on our hands, instead of two collapsed office buildings.

        Technological fundamentalists are as dangerous as the religious ones.

    • Marion Meads

      Many people never learned from the various revelations of Edward Snowden! So the hackers, organized online crimes, government tyranny and oppression will be here to stay. I am 200% sure that the driverless vehicles would be hacked even before they are deployed. There is no secured system. I can cite various references to prove my claims, even from reliable sources such as the MIT Tech review. But I leave it up to you to do a little finger work.

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