Autonomous buses find rough and unpredictable weather like heavy rain, snow, or fog quite challenging. Now the new four-wheel-drive all-electric autonomous vehicle called the ‘Gacha’ a 4.5m long, 2.4m wide, 2.8m high 10 seater plus extra space for six standing adults, has been rolled out in Finland.
Designed by Japanese retailer Muji, Gacha is the world’s first autonomous shuttle bus for all weather conditions. Gacha is capable of maximum speeds of 40km (25 miles) per hour, plus the electric motor has a range of 100km (62 miles) with wireless charging offered as an option.
The Finnish autonomous vehicle expert Sensible 4 has contributed the driverless technology that makes Gacha capable of accurate positioning and navigation and obstacle detection. The makers say this will allow clean, autonomous driving throughout the year regardless of the environment and conditions.
The Muji has chosen a minimalist yet aesthetic design for Gacha ditching the conventional front or rear lights for a LED light belt. The seating follows the soft, rounded square shape of the bus.
Speaking about the harshest of arctic Lapland conditions in which Sensible 4 has tested and validated its technology, Harri Santamala, CEO Sensible 4 says, “Autonomous vehicles can’t become mainstream until their technology has been ensured to work in all climates. We are developing these vehicles so that they can become part of daily transportation service chain.”
Gacha was unveiled in Helsinki earlier this month. Claiming that its software can be integrated in most autonomous vehicle platforms – from small cars to full-size buses Sensible 4 already offers free open-to-all rides as part of pilot in southern Finland in its home city of Espoo. Marja-Liisa Niinikoski, chief executive officer of Helsinki Business Hub, a regional development agency playing a key role in introducing Gacha says, “Helsinki was one of the first cities in the world to pilot self-driving robot busses on public roads.”
According to the Espoo a Finland-based company, Gacha is now successfully operating within Espoo, which saw snowfall on 43 days in January and February. Gacha is designed to follow pre-planned routes but can even change its route based on user requests. For example, a person living half a mile from a route can make a request in an app to hop into the bus. Gacha will then optimize its route to pass by that person’s door, sending an alert so the passenger can be outside just in time.
An email from Tommi Rimpiläinen Sensible 4’s chief operations officer reads, “The authorities have provided us a license to drive autonomously in all public roads in Finland. They have also supported our extreme arctic condition testing by providing smart road infrastructure for self-driving vehicles in Lapland.”
So far, the project has taken two years to develop. Gacha will be driving and taking passengers in real-life traffic, in three Finnish cities-namely Hämeenlinna, Vantaa, and Helsinki this year. Plans are being finalizing for the first Gacha to roll out in 2020, with the larger ambition of developing autonomous shuttle bus fleets for mainstream use and public transportation services in 2021.