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Self-driving buses are coming to San Ramon, California. The EZ10 is a driverless bus designed for short hops within a campus-like environment. Each vehicle carries up to ten passengers and has a ramp for wheelchairs and strollers. They are designed to carry you that “last mile” from a public transit stop to your workplace or appointment, and then back to the public transit connection when you are done.

EZ10The EZ10 is an electric vehicle with an eight-hour range that uses GPS to follow pre-programed route, with laser sensors to avoid obstacles and people.

Made by Ligier, the EZ10 is already in use in Finland and France, and soon to be used also in Spain. By the end of 2015, The Netherlands plans to use them on a seven-kilometer route between a major train station and the campus of Wageningen University and Research Center.

Probably one of the best features of the EZ10 is that it is another step in making the general public comfortable around driverless vehicles.

Some of us are old enough to remember the introduction of driverless rail-based public transit and the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that it caused. The first such system was the Victoria line as part of London’s Underground which opened in 1967. At this point, trains like Copenhagen’s Metro are capable of operating completely automatically, including door closing, obstacle detection and handling emergency situations. Copenhagen’s Metro carries about 55 million passenger trips per year.

Ligier Automobiles was founded in 1968 by Guy Ligier, a former racing driver and rugby player. It has specialized in small cars (microcars). One of the world’s first prototypes of automatic parallel parking was developed on a Ligier electric car in the mid 1990’s. As the name implies, microcars are small, seating only a driver and passenger, with a small gasoline engine or electric motor. Different countries have different rules on what is defined to be a microcar, but often they can be no more than 3 meters in length. In addition to the obvious fuel efficiency of such a light vehicle, in some countries they are treated like motorcycles for tax and insurance purposes. Austria, France, Germany, Italy and Spain do not require a driver’s license to operate them. Some microcars do not have a reverse; simply pick up one end and shift it around to park.

The last word:

KirobiMiniIf you would like to take a small step into driving automation on your own, consider getting a Kirobo Mini. Designed by Toyota, the cup-holder sized Kirobo Mini is a four-inch tall robot that can gesture, read your mood, and talk to you while you drive. Actually, you can’t get one just yet, but Toyota may install them in future Toyota vehicles to help keep you alert and calm. It could also collect information about driving habits that Toyota engineers could potentially use to build better features into their cars.

The original Kirobo was a slightly more than foot-tall robot that went to space in 2013 with Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakata. Kirobo was designed to remember Wakata’s face so it could recognize and have conversations with the astronaut on the International Space Station and even relay information to him from Earth.

The Kirobo Mini might even be useful to help us keep alert during those interminable virtual meetings we all have to sit through.

Comments solicited.

Keep your sense of humor.

Walt.

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