Meets safety requirement under rigorous applied conditions
The autonomous shuttle looks like a Kombi van, a little closer to the ground. It plies its way up and down a wide and leafy boulevard sandwiched between two busy main streets.
I step in at the terminus.
A pleasant middle aged woman accompanied by nothing more than a child/grandchild is in charge.
There is room for around 10. There are four of us on board. We set off. With nobody’s hands on any controls.
The vehicle proceeds at a walking pace, weaving its way around pedestrians and clusters of North African hand bag salesman with their wares scattered quite widely.
A bunch of young pedestrian is oblivious to our progress, hardly surprising given our noiseless progression.
It is now that our official goes into action, sounding a parp-parp on the horn which has the desired effect of dispersing the obstructing bunch of humanity .
A minute or so later we have arrived at the up-city terminus. I notice that our operator adjusts a touch screen.
I am now on the return trip down the boulevard, a decision helped by the fact that the navette, French for shuttle, is free.
Once again our official stands midships and we make our way down the boulevard, and this time the voyage is made with no intervention at all.
Was I impressed? Most definitely.
Though proceeding at walking pace, the navette could still have delivered a memorable clout to anything three dimension that it encountered, and most damagingly to human flesh.
How did it work? I asked our friendly on-board representative. With cameras, I was assured.
In the event and in the few weeks that the autonomous navette has been operating the cameras have been applied successfully, there being no report of any collision of the type that is so eagerly awaited, and then reported, when innovations of this scale quite literally hit the street.
The one that I rode was made by Navya which is on France’s Toulouse-Lyon technology corridor, and under operational trial not far away.
Navya has a model exactly like this one under evaluation at Christchurch airport in New Zealand.
The company cold-shouldered my attempt to learn from it more details of the “camera” technology.
Even so, it relies heavily on a technique known as LIDAR that uses pulsed laser to measure distances.
Nobody can dispute that the little-fanfared autonomous vehicle I rode on has proved the single most important thing that the technology needs to prove which is to the effect that it is safe.
I noticed though that in these early days there was a reluctance to use it.
Was it just fear of the new? A noted French characteristic.
It could have hardly been the safety factor.
Only yards away people hurtled around in cars and noisy motos unencased in technologies of the laser, gyroscopic, and kinetic variety…….