Ugly But Useful: Stockholm Introduces Driverless Buses

Possibly no-other European nation loves technology as much as the Swedes. Stockholm has more tech startups per capita than any other city in the world apart from Silicon Valley. Automation is almost everywhere in Sweden, helping to eliminate the requirement for expensive Swedish labour or cash. It’s rare to find a petrol pump in Sweden where you don’t have to pay at the pump first by credit card.

So driverless buses and cars in Sweden seem a no-brainer. Think how many more hours you could spend on your startup as you cruise your autonomous vehicle down the long and empty motorway through the forests.

For transport companies, the attractions of cutting out bus drivers and saving on those wages are obvious, not to mention the expected improvements in safety. This month, a fleet of driverless buses, carrying up to 12 passengers each, started to make their way along a 1.5 kilometre stretch from the science suburb Kista to central Stockholm. Equipped with smart technology connecting them to Ericsson sensor-enabled bus stops and traffic lights, they can’t go faster than 20 kilometres an hour. They are also, it has to be said, seriously ugly. The buses are run by a partnership between bus company Nobina, Ericsson, SJ (Stockholm’s public transport authority), the Royal Swedish Institute of Technology (KTH), Klövern, Urban ICT Arena and Stockholm City.

In Gothenburg, Sweden’s second city, 100 driverless Volvos were tried out last summer as part of a project that will see more driverless cars being introduced in the city this year.  Using cameras, GPS and other sensors, they navigated around the city's traffic without incident. Gothenburg City Planning Authority is measuring the positive and negative effects of autonomous vehicles and using the data created by these trials to plan parking facilities, road layout and improve public spaces and safety. “We can see how the new conditions that emanate from this technology will have a bearing on our potential to build a good, sustainable city", said Anna Svensson, project manager.

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