Those worried about the level of driving skill on display on Chinese roads will be happy to hear that the city of Shenzhen is now testing out a line of self-driving buses.
The driverless buses made their official debut on Saturday, in what might have been the first test of its kind in the world, servicing a three-stop, 1.2-kilometer route with actual passengers.
Capable of avoiding pedestrians, speeding up, slowing down, making emergency stops, changing lanes, and navigating traffic lights, the buses are steered automatically along a designated route. For safety’s sake, there is a driver on board, though ideally he should never need to touch the wheel.
The small buses can carry up to 19 passengers and hit speeds of 40 kilometers per hour while cruising around the city’s quiet Futian District. Brave passengers who hopped on one of the buses for their inaugural test run on Saturday gave largely positive reviews, saying that it was mostly a smooth commute, though there were some complaints.
“At a ‘T’ intersection, a private car suddenly turned toward us and the bus slowed down, but its brake was a little too fierce,” one passenger said, reports China Daily.
The buses were manufactured in China by Shenzhen Haylion Technologies at a cost of about 500,000 yuan ($76,0000) per vehicle. If they continue to pass all of their tests, they could one day enter regular operation in the city.
Of course, Haylion does have some competition in the driverless bus market. Back in 2015, Chinese bus giant Yutong allowed a team of foreign journalists to ride on its self-driving bus during a test run down a Zhengzhou highway. And then, of course, there’s this driverless train that runs on virtual rails — very much less a bus.
However, no matter how advanced bus-driving AI becomes, we are skeptical that they will ever be able to replicate the skill of real, flesh-and-blood Chinese bus drivers.