Paris just followed tech-tastic cities like Singapore, Pittsburgh, and even Boston down the path toward an autonomous future. Travelers crossing the River Seine between the Gare d’Austerlitz and Gare de Lyon train stations, can now make the trip for free aboard aboard one of two electric, driverless shuttles.
The service spares travelers the pain of hauling their luggage without the complication and cost of a two-minute bus or taxi ride. The shuttles, made by the French firm Easymmile, carry six passengers and a human overseer to keep an eye on things. They trundle back and forth over the Charles de Gaulle bridge in a dedicated lane, making the 800-foot jaunt at about 12 mph.
— Groupe RATP (@GroupeRATP) January 23, 2017
Watching this thing escargot across the bridge, the words “meh” and “lame” (also “ennui”) spring to mind before “future.” But this is what the coming age of transportation looks like. Navigating the world is a terribly complex task, and the best way to deliver truly driverless cars—no steering wheel, no pedals—is to start deploying them in tightly controlled environments where little can go wrong.
“The more you contain a problem, the easier it is to automate,” says Bryan Reimer, who studies autonomous vehicles at MIT. That’s why Uber is testing robo-cars in downtown Pittsburgh, and why Otto’s beer-hauling semis let the robot handle interstates while leaving surface streets to humans.
Paris’ shuttle is another example of the slow-and-easy approach, even if it’s just a step or two ahead of those driverless railway trams you see at airports all over the world. “I would expect you’re gonna see a lot more things like this,” Reimer says. It may not be as sexy as Tesla’s Autopilot, but it’s a good way to introduce people to how these vehicles operate.
Paris plans to run the shuttles, which cost $215,000 a piece and use lidar sensing to see the world, until April 7. It will survey passengers and monitor the reliability and efficiency of the service. The city already plans to offer a similar service between the equally cozy Chateau de Vincennes and the Parc Floral. The future’s spreading faster than butter on a crepe.