China Driverless buses rolling toward commercial runs

A driverless bus is in operation in Suzhou, South China’s Jiangsu province, on Oct 21, 2020. [Photo/Suzhou Daily]

Report: Transport in 7 cities high-tech; self-driving vehicle routes expanding

Sustained efforts can help commercialize self-driving buses in China that already boasts the world’s longest unmanned bus routes, a new report said.

Driverless buses are currently in operation on some open roads in four countries-China, the United States, Finland and Germany-according to a joint report released by Chinese self-driving startup QCraft, China Mobile and research firm CB Insights.

The length of autonomous bus routes in China has reached 54.6 kilometers, 8.6 times as long as those in the US, accounting for 85 percent of the world’s length of driverless bus routes, the report said.

Major cities across China are exploring how to use cutting-edge technologies to optimize their transportation networks.

Suzhou in Jiangsu province, Zhengzhou in Henan province, Shenzhen and Guangzhou in Guangdong province, Haikou in Hainan province, and Chongqing and Tianjin municipalities have unmanned buses in operation on open roads.

It is estimated that China will increase the number of driverless bus routes to over 60 by 2022, with their total length exceeding 300 kilometers, according to the report.

Yu Qian, co-founder and CEO of QCraft, said that unmanned public transportation is a new concept that can provide initial operational data. Analysis of operational status can provide a reference for further expansion of unmanned public transportation operations.

In October 2020, the Longzhou One, the autonomous minibus using QCraft’s technology, started trial operations on open roads in Suzhou, offering free services to the city’s commuters.

As of March 31, more than 11,000 passengers have taken a ride around Xiangcheng district in driverless buses, with an average daily passenger count of about 116, said the report.

According to Yu, the Longzhou One is equipped with a global positioning system, cameras, laser sensors and radar sensors to navigate predetermined routes.

Artificial intelligence-based technologies and cameras also work together to enable the bus to detect and avoid obstacles on the road.

QCraft has partnered with China Mobile, the world’s largest telecom operator by mobile subscribers, for a high-speed 5G network and smart connected-devices, allowing the driverless bus to receive information regarding traffic and road conditions almost in real time.

Jiang Xin, deputy general manager of the smart transportation product at China Mobile’s Shanghai industrial research department, said with the integration of 5G, navigation satellites, AI, big data and other technologies, urban transportation is gradually getting ultramodern, making its management via high-tech possible. Such a trend will become more evident in the future.

Xie Zhendong, director of big data at Guangzhou Transportation Group, said the industry is facing challenges of a decline in bus passenger flow and an increase in public transportation investment. Meanwhile, an aging population of bus drivers and frequent accidents also dog the sector.

Therefore, intelligent operations can transform public transportation networks. Making travel time computable and predictable would be an efficient way to upgrade the sector, thereby solving existing problems, Xie said.

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