Autonomous shuttle buses are not new, but previously their design has tended towards an emphasis on function rather than form. Now Japanese brand Muji have teamed up with autonomous driving company Sensible 4 to design a more user-friendly shuttle for use in Finland.
The bus, known as Gacha, has a smooth rounded shape and a tasteful color scheme, as you would expect from the detail-obsessed Muji brand. There is no distinct front or back to the shuttle, so it can move in either direction with ease, and it has a band of LEDs running around the exterior which form the headlights and also convey information such as the bus’s destination. It is intended to look friendly and welcoming with a comfy interior that looks as good as the exterior, with soft minimalist blue seats and simple handrails.
The shuttle is designed for the harsh conditions of a Finnish winter, which can include heavy rain, fog, and snow. Most autonomous vehicles struggle in these conditions, which is why they are most often used in warmer climates. But the Gacha is designed with these challenges in mind, making it the first autonomous shuttle bus for all weather conditions. The bus can carry ten seated passengers and six standing passengers, and can reach a top speed of 25 miles per hour. It has a four wheel drive design to cope with slushy conditions and has a range over 60 miles between charges.
While Muji contributed to the appearance and design of the shuttle, Sensible 4 contributed to the tools needed for the bus to be self-driving such as obstacle detection technology, AI, and algorithms. They tested the bus in Arctic conditions to be sure that it would stand up to the freezing Finnish weather.
The first time the public will get to see the bus in person is at its premier in March 2019 in Helsinki. Following this, the buses will be rolled out in the three Finnish cities of Espoo, Vantaa, and Hämeenlinna, carrying passengers and operating among real-world traffic. Eventually, Sensible 4 and Muji plan to roll out an entire fleet of Gacha buses in 2020, hoping that they can become part of mainstream transportation services across Finland.