5 Companies Building an Autonomous Electric Bus
With 1.2 billion vehicles driving on the world’s roads today, the automotive technology space holds a great deal of promise for investors. Technologies such as connected vehicles and driverless trucks are attracting the attention of investors while Elon Musk continues to push us in the direction of a world full of autonomous vehicles. In a recent article we wrote about the idea of a driverless taxi which is something every big auto company is working on at the moment, not to mention the likes of Uber and Tesla.
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, there are much more feasible autonomous driving concepts in the works such as the driverless electric bus. We’ve written before about a company called 2getthere which already has autonomous electric buses in operation in several locations, but there are also a fair number of startups pursuing the same ambition. The smart folks at CB Insights have put together a list of 5 companies that are working on building an autonomous electric bus which can operate in mostly controlled environments:
The first thing we see when looking at the above list is that the idea seems to be relatively new, with every one of these companies receiving their first round of funding no more than two years ago. This helps explain why none of these companies have taken in any meaningful amounts of funding so far. By meaningful, we mean that it doesn’t seem likely that any one of these 5 companies will be able to commercialize an autonomous electric bus that will suddenly begin to appear in every college campus, airport, or theme park.
Still, if you think about the evolution of autonomous driving and where we’re likely to see this technology applied first, then a very feasible application would be to provide “autonomous shuttles” that navigate on fixed routes within controlled environments. Think about the applicability in an airport for example where we already have this frequently in the form of short length fixed rail. It seems likely that this application of the autonomous electric bus could be realized reasonably soon. Here’s a closer look at 5 companies looking to make the autonomous electric bus a reality.
Launched in October 2015, the Navya ARMA is a completely autonomous electric bus which can transport up to 15 passengers and safely drive up to 28 miles per hour. The Company has 23 installations so far, mostly on private sites, through which they have managed to transport more than 15,000 passengers successfully. Less than a month ago, Navya announced that two of their buses are operating in the town center of Sion Switzerland, a small city of just 29 thousand people. Should this pilot prove successful, then there shouldn’t be any reason why the Swiss wouldn’t look to make the ARMA a fixture in every one of their town centers.
Local Motors is looking to commercialize their autonomous electric bus called Olli. Under the supervision of a human at all times, Olli doesn’t stop at bus stops but rather uses people’s smartphones to determine where to stop. Essentially you can stand anywhere on a designated route and get picked up. Olli has a demonstration facility near Alexandria Maryland and plans to target the needs of large campuses and municipalities. Local Motors is also dabbling in a number of other areas such 3D printed cars and cargo drones.
EasyMile is a joint venture between a vehicle manufacturer (Ligier Group) and a high tech company specializing in services robotics (Robosoft). Since 2008, the Robosoft driverless software technology has been powering a fleet of autonomous shuttles servicing recreation parks in Europe with over 1.5 million passengers transported so far. Their autonomous vehicle called the EZ10 can transport a maximum of 12 passengers at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour. The EZ10 is currently deployed in all kinds of projects located in Spain, France, and Switzerland.
Now before we continue, we noticed that we’re pushing the boundaries of what we might call an electric bus since this vehicle only has 4 seats. It’s would seem to be more appropriately called a car. Now the idea here is that if a 4-seat shuttle can operate autonomously without any issues, then why can’t you just expand the chassis and do the same thing with 16 people and call it an electric bus? Auro Robotics is building driverless electric shuttles that are retro-fitted on Polaris GEM e4 golf carts. These shuttles can travel at speeds of up to 15 mph autonomously, and can navigate over 90 miles on a single charge. The Company is specifically targeting college campuses as a first application, and they have deployed their shuttles already at Santa Clara University in California.
Similar to Auro Robotics, Varden Labs is also building on a golf cart chassis. Varden claims to have built in a single month, with just a few thousand dollars, the first self-driving vehicle driven on Canadian Roads called Marvin. Their second vehicle was a self-driving shuttle called Alvin which was backed by the prestigious startup incubator Y Combinator. Alvin has completed ten pilot projects so far and shuttled more than a thousand people.