In celebration of Estonia’s presidency of the Council of the European Union, two driverless buses have been introduced on a limited route in Tallinn. While the city authorities claim the twin buses have not been involved in any ‘major incidents’, there have been many reports of near misses. One close call took place on 31st July when an eyewitnesses claimed that one of the buses failed to give way to a police car with its lights flashing.
Additionally, a photographer for the national broadcaster ERR witnessed a bus ignore a red light at a pedestrian crossing, ploughing on regardless of the surprise it had caused.
In accordance with the Estonian Traffic Code, both driverless buses can only operate with a responsible human on-board who has been trained to intervene if necessary.
Speaking to ERR, Talvo Rüütelmaa, Director of the Traffic Management Department of Tallinn Transport Administration, the agency responsible for the safety of the driverless vehicles, explained: "The artificial intelligence must do everything, but just in case, there is a person on board, a human escort, who has a button with which they can stop the vehicle.
“The artificial intelligence is designed so that if it has any doubts, it will come to a stop, so if anyone steps in front of it, it will stop in any case."
The shuttle buses can reach speeds of 50-60km/h, but during this test phase their speed is restricted to 20km/h. According to Rüütelmaa, the scheme has been successful: “People who have ridden the bus have been very pleased — they only say that it should go faster."
The buses in question are Easymile’s EZ10 electric, driverless shuttles. The model can transport up to 12 people (six seating positions and six standing positions) and can cater to reduced mobility passengers. The EZ10 has no steering wheel and no specific front or rear side.
Tallinn is the first city in which driverless buses will come into contact with live traffic, but hurry, the buses will not be around for long. The shuttles are free of charge for all passengers until the trial ends at the end of August.