July 13, 2017 / 11:03 AM / a month ago

No one at the wheel - Taiwan tests driverless electric bus

TAIPEI, July 13 (Reuters) - The boxy, electric bus bouncing along a road in a leafy university campus in Taiwan is fitted with special high-tech sensors, but it has no driver at the wheel.

When a student steps out in front of the bus it slows down until she passes. Then it picks up pace again.

"I think that the system enhances safety just like the subway," Sam Tu, an alumni at National Taiwan University in Taipei, said recently on a test ride of the French-made EZ10 driverless electric bus.

Tu, who came with his mother and father for their first ride in a driverless vehicle, said that like a subway system, the EZ10 gets passengers from one point to another on a dedicated, predictable route and was good for the environment.

"Nevertheless, consumers need time to adapt," Tu said.

On its short, carefully planned route on a clear day, the EZ10, manufactured by French autonomous driving company EasyMile SAS, easily completed its test circuit.

"It can be the first mile or last mile connection with the bus or with the metro," said Martin Ting, chief of Taiwan-based 7Starlake Co, which is aiming to bring the compact driverless bus to Taiwan and set up an assembly site on the island.

Unexpected complications, like having to make a detour if something strays into its path, or how it would perform in rain or at night, still have to be incorporated into the feasibility tests.

But the aim is to make the EZ10, which can carry up to a dozen passengers, operational at several locations later next year, Ting said, with the initial target being campuses and public transport links.

For Tu's mother, Tsai Chiu-kei, not having a temperamental driver at the wheel could be a good thing.

"A taxi has a driver, but sometimes they go so fast and don't slow down even when I tell them to," she said. (Reporting by J.R. Wu; Editing by Karishma Singh)

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