Robot bus starts picking up Pasila passengers

The driverless GACHA vehicles can hit a top speed of 29 kmph and the route can already be found integrated on HSL's local transport app.

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File picture of GACHA driverless bus pod / Credit: Sensible 4

Passengers in the capital are now able to ride on on small self-driving bus called GACHA, developed by Finnish company Sensible 4 and Japanese design house Muji.

The driverless buses are operating a test schedule during the summer in Helsinki’s Pasila neighbourhood after an initial experiment in the spring.

Each of the three bus pods could normally carry up to 16 passengers but due to coronavirus restrictions just 9 people will be allowed on board at any one time.

Sensible 4’s CEO Harri Santamala says the reaction from passengers to the driverless GACHA technology has been good so far.

“In general the attitude is very positive and excited about the tech and this is something at least very strong in Finland, but at the same time everybody is initially worried about the safety and wanted to see and feel that it’s safe” he explains.

“And what do people do in public transportation in Finland? they take up their cellphone and start doing all that interesting stuff with their cellphones. When people start doing that I know we’ve been successful” Santamala tells News Now Finland.

The usage concept for the robot GACHA’s is that they could operate on routes which are not profitable for traditional buses – and then connect to other hubs like bus or tram stops, or metro stations.

The pods can travel up to 29 kmph on their short Pasila routes, and are built to operate no matter what the weather throws at them.

“For us the assumption is that it always rains, and it’s just a question of form and density of the rain” says Santamala.

“We’ve been doing pilot tests throughout the whole autumn and winter and spring, and if you think about the business perspective it rains in all the key market areas. You might have heavy rain, tropical rain, fog and snow and still public transport is working. So the assumption is that weather happens and the technology must meet those needs” he adds.

The driverless bus timetables can already be found on HSL’s app as route 29R but for now they will have a human operator on board to monitor operations or help out in tricky spots where there might not be good internet connectivity.

Earlier this month Sensible 4’s self-driving shuttle bus won a €30,000 Finnish engineering prize for creativity.