A driverless bus has started making its rounds on Jelgava Post Island (Pasta sala), taking the visitors to the swimming spot and back. The software allows it to move the short distance on its own. However, amid the safety concerns an operator with a control panel will be around in one of the 12 stops, ready to jump into action if necessary.
The trip takes five minutes and while the bus can develop a top speed of up to 40 km per hour, it is programmed not to exceed 20 km per hour. As soon as there is the slightest obstacle on the road, one of the sixteen sensors works picks it up and the bus brakes, reported Latvian media.
People are asked not to try out the vehicle’s smartness and preparedness to solve emergencies, for example, standing in its way to find out if it really will stop in a timely fashion.
"With a variety of sensors, the vehicle will detect the environment and know when to brake or stop completely if there is an obstacle ahead. However, everyone is advised to exercise caution, not to create artificial obstacles, not to move the bus or otherwise interfere with the vehicle during programming and operation. For safety reasons, there will also be a constant attendant on the bus, who will be able to take over its control if necessary,” said Zemgale Planning Region (ZPR) specialist Ilze Lujane in a statement from the local authority.
Passengers are also being asked not to squeeze on board during the time of coronavirus (COVID-19). With just 12 places available, it is difficult to maintain a distance of two metres inside, so it is recommended that single family groups travel together.
Latvian legislation prohibits such unmanned aerial vehicles from driving on public roads. Therefore there will also be a qualified driver on board. The bus also has wheelchair access.
After a two-week service in Jelgava on the Post Island, the bus is expected to travel to the town of Aizkraukle, where it will operate a route taking people to the history and art museum.
It is believed to be just the beginning of autonomous vehicles in Latvia and that in future they could be used to reduce traffic congestion. The project is mostly financed by the European Union, with the Latvian side providing 15% co-financing.