Gacha is a robot bus which claims to be the first fully-functioning electric autonomous shuttle for all-weather conditions. The pure, minimalist design is the work of Muji and continues the styling we have come to associate with the Japanese retailer. The underpinnings, on the other hand, are by the Finnish autonomous vehicle expert Sensible 4 who has provided the driverless technology to ensure Gacha is capable of accurate positioning and navigation, as well as obstacle detection. The makers say this will allow clean, autonomous driving throughout the year regardless of the environment and conditions.
Gacha is 4.5m long, 2.4m wide, 2.8m high – it can seat 10 passengers and there is space for six further standing adults. This four-wheel-drive all-electric autonomous vehicle is capable of maximum speeds of 40km (25 miles) per hour, plus the electric motor has a range of 100km (62 miles) with wireless charging offered as an option.
The Muji design is focused around the occupants to provide a wide, comfortable space for travel. The seating follows the soft rounded square shape of the bus. The friendly design stays clear of the typical vehicle focus on front or rear. Instead an LED light belt wraps the entire Gacha body, offering a combination of the headlights and communication screens. The cabin is designed to be a social environment, for Muji sees autonomous public transport concepts like Gacha also having the potential of bring remote communities together in countries like Finland with such extreme winters.
Currently heavy rain, fog and snow can prevent autonomous vehicles from functioning properly, since many of the existing technologies are being developed for warmer climates. Therefore, Sensible 4 has tested and validated its technology under the harshest of arctic Lapland conditions. “Autonomous vehicles can’t become mainstream until their technology has been ensured to work in all climates,” says Harri Santamala, Sensible 4 chief executive officer. “We are developing these vehicles so that they can become part of daily transportation service chain.”
His company is actively on the lookout for suitable industry partners, OEMs and suppliers who can produce the buses as well as investors to accelerate the company’s growth. Sensible 4 already offers free open-to-all rides as part of pilot in southern Finland in its home city of Espoo, saying its software can be integrated in most autonomous vehicle platforms – from small cars to full-size buses.
Gacha was unveiled in Helsinki earlier this month. The city has invested greatly in open, digital technologies for smart city developments and aims to create the most effective transport services in the world. “Helsinki was one of the first cities in the world to pilot self-driving robot busses on public roads,” says Marja-Liisa Niinikoski, chief executive officer of Helsinki Business Hub, a regional development agency playing a key role in introducing Gacha. She says she is excited that such projects can help discover the best ways to introduce automated vehicles to Helsinki and other cities to “improve the everyday lives of residents in the process”.
So far, the project has taken two years to develop. Following the launch, to prove the vehicle’s all-weather capabilities, Gacha will be driving and taking passengers in three Finnish cities in real-life traffic. In the meantime, the two companies are finalizing plans for the first Gacha to roll out in 2020, with the larger ambition of developing autonomous shuttle bus fleets for mainstream use and public transportation services in 2021.
Read about some other unusual and progressive concepts, including the BMW/Northface Futurelight Camper, Toyota’s wheelchair design challenge and Guido, the self-driving cocktail bar.
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