Len Brown can stick his trains, he can also stick his buses. This is the public transport of the future.
Raul Rojas, a professor of artificial intelligence at the Free University of Berlin who leads their autonomous car project, has a more ambitious vision.
He predicts that the public transport of the future will be fleets of robot taxis, cheaper and safer than the human kind, and capable of operating for 24 hours a day without fatigue.
In a few years’ time, Professor Rojas suggests, people will use their mobile phones to summon a robot taxi, dropping it off at their destination ready for the next passenger.
There are still technical barriers to the mass production of automated cars. The key problem is vision. The laser scanners used by the Free University’s car cannot pass through a solid barrier, so a pedestrian stepping out from between two parked buses would be invisible until the last moment.
An automated car “does not just need to watch out for other cars,” Professor Herrtwch says. “It needs to check for pedestrians and cyclists, for lanes, stopping lines, traffic signs, and traffic lights. It needs to understand that a lane ends in a few hundred metres or that there is a stalled vehicle on the highway ahead of it.”
This technology does not just need to be reliable, but affordable within the budget constraints of a typical mass production vehicle.