Autonomous bus named Erica being tested in Spain to help familiarize citizens with driverless technology

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According to ZDNet, an autonomous bus called Èrica—which stands for electric, revolutionary, intelligent, shared (compartit in Catalan) and amicable—is being tested in Catalonia, Spain and the surrounding region to help familiarize citizens with driverless technology.

The testing is also designed to give local-government officials the opportunity to adjust to this new form of transportation, which they expect to be fully functioning by 2020.

Èrica was unveiled by the Association of Municipalities for Mobility and Urban Transport (AMTU). Among its capabilities, the red and yellow shuttle has eight sensors, is 100 percent electrically powered with 14 hours of autonomous driving, and can transport up to 11 passengers and an attendant that’s onboard to help and advise travelers, and deal with emergencies. The vehicle is also suitable for reduced-mobility passengers.
 
Approximately 4,600 citizens from Sant Cugat, Terrassa, and Sabadell experienced the bus last month. This month, AMTU plans on taking the vehicle to Girona, El Vendrell, Reus, Martorell, and Vic.

Preparing the bus for its new routes takes time, so before Èrica can carry passengers, it must first undergo two days of preparation, so it can record the route to be driven in detail using GPS.

Once the bus is ready for its new route, passengers can board it, and they have the option of sitting in one of the six available seats, or standing.

While on the road, Èrica can detect unexpected obstacles in its path thanks to its laser sensors. Another safety feature of the bus is the limit on its maximum speed, as the bus is limited to a maximum speed of 11 miles per hour, which helps protect standing passengers from sudden braking. The speed limit is also meant to account for the complex urban environment.

According to AMTU director Joan Prat, the shuttle can ‘see’ what happens within 200 meters, and if necessary, can come to a rapid halt when it detects an object at less than 30 centimeters.

Prat does acknowledge, though, that certain weather conditions remain a problem.

“In case of heavy rain, the vehicle detects [the water as] an unidentified object, so it can't operate,” Prat tells ZDNet. He adds that in the near future, cameras located on the roof will be able to identify exactly what the object encountered is.

​For Prat, shuttles like Èrica are designed to be used for pre-checked routes and as first- or last-mile systems.

“Shuttles like Èrica are designed to complement the current transport network and not to replace any line,” Prat says.

Those use cases are more than enough, though, according to Pere Calvet, general manager of Catalonian railway company FGC.

“We still need to overcome hurdles, such as legislation, and carefully deal with moral issues as well as the coexistence of people and machines in the urban environment,” Calvet says. “But the shift to a more sustainable mobility is necessary and unstoppable.”