Driverless bus hits the streets of Malaga in Spain

The electric bus project is the first of its kind in Europe

Children wait to take an electric autonomous bus which is driven in autopilot mode during a month test phase with passengers in Malaga, Spain February 24, 2021. REUTERS/Jon Nazca
Children wait to take an electric autonomous bus which is driven in autopilot mode during a month test phase with passengers in Malaga, Spain February 24, 2021. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

A new driverless electric bus is operating in the southern Spanish city of Malaga, a project presented as a first in Europe.

The bus, which began taking passengers on Saturday, is equipped with sensors and cameras and links Malaga's port to the city centre on an eight-kilometre loop it does six times a day.

"The bus knows at all times where it is and what is around it," said Rafael Durban Carmona, who heads the southern division of Spanish transport company Avanza that leads the public-private consortium behind the project.

It can "interact with traffic lights," which are also equipped with sensors that alert the bus when they turn red, he told AFP.

The bus uses artificial intelligence to improve its 'decisions', based on data recorded along the route.

The 12-metre vehicle, which looks like any other bus, can carry 60 passengers and was developed by Spanish firm Irizar.

Other driverless pilot projects already exist in Europe, but none of them involves a regular-size urban bus that runs on a regular street with other vehicles.

Despite the advanced technology, there is a driver at the wheel to take control if necessary since Spanish law does not currently allow vehicles to operate without a driver.

"We put it in automatic mode and it runs completely autonomously," explains Cristobal Maldonado, the driver.

Avanza bus company driver Cristobal Maldonado, 60, oversees an electric autonomous bus in autopilot mode during a month test phase with passengers in Malaga, Spain. Reuters
Avanza bus company driver Cristobal Maldonado, 60, oversees an electric autonomous bus in autopilot mode during a month test phase with passengers in Malaga, Spain February 24, 2021. REUTERS/Jon Nazca

The project received funding from the Spanish government and was coordinated with several universities.

Last month, Singapore launched a self-driving bus trial with passengers booking through an app and the bus taking them around Singapore's Science Park, a high-tech business hub, during off-peak hours.

China has also tested driverless taxis in several cities.

An Uber self-driving car hit and killed a woman crossing the street in the US in 2018, in what is believed to be the first fatality involving an autonomous vehicle.

Lack of regulation and concerns over the safety of the general public are two factors often cited by experts that stand in the way of the development of driverless vehicles.

Updated: February 26, 2021 08:02 PM

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