It looks like there is yet more evidence that autonomous vehicles are making strides and could potentially enhance pupil transportation, with the Volkswagen Group’s unveiling of its new self-driving “school bus” concept.
The vehicle manufacturer unveiled its SEDRIC (SElf DRIving Car) School Bus, an autonomous electric vehicle designed for a handful of passengers, at the International Geneva Motor Show on March 5. It is the latest version of SEDRIC, its mobility concept for fully autonomous multi-passenger driving, which was initially introduced at the International Geneva Motor Show in 2017.
Since last year, the development of the Self-Driving System (SDS) and systems for recognizing the surrounding environment and traffic data analysis have advanced significantly, according to a news release from the Volkswagen Group. Additionally, the manufacturer said that development in the areas of design, user experience, and comfort continue to progress.
Designed for on-demand travel, the SEDRIC School Bus includes the option of using a OneButton control element to call up one of these self-driving electric vehicles at the touch of a button and traveling door to door.
On the vehicle’s exterior, LED signage will notify motorists to stop and wait for students to cross, and provide other information to motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians, according to TechCrunch. Another feature that the technology industry publication noted is the large sliding glass doors, which could make boarding and exiting easier.
The look is also designed to be more youthful, with the exterior painted yellow, black, and with stylized graffiti. Inside the bus, aluminum boxes decorated with stickers form the basis for two of the four seats. A large-format OLED screen provides onboard entertainment tailored to students to make the travel time to and from school seem shorter, according to the Volkswagen Group.
Bench storage is also available for holding items such as backpacks, TechCrunch reports.
The vehicle appears to be an impressive application of the autonomous concept. Even though this technology isn’t going to be fully implemented any time soon, at this point it still presents many exciting possibilities and begs lots of questions.
Although one SEDRIC School Bus would not directly replace even a Type A school bus, given the small number of passengers it can accommodate, it’s possible a group of them could be used if needed, say, for a field trip. The vehicle might also work better for students who do better riding without other students, or in a calmer, quieter, lower-stimulus environment. Students in wheelchairs would probably be able to board and exit more easily, as would other students with mobility issues. It would likely eliminate the problems of students boarding the wrong buses or being left behind on buses.
Still, to augment or take the place of school buses, several questions would need to be resolved. Given how difficult it already is to get motorists to acknowledge a stop arm and red flashing lights, would a warning on an LED screen be sufficient? Would parents be comfortable with their children, particularly the younger ones, riding without an adult present? If not, would schools be required to provide more staffing, with an attendant on each vehicle? If something does go wrong, do passengers have the ability to stop the vehicle and call for assistance? Could the vehicles be hacked? What about the timing of a rollout? Would it be safer to roll out the technology after automated vehicles become mainstream for motorists?
I am sure these questions just represent the tip of the iceberg. Please share yours, along with other thoughts on the use of autonomous vehicles in school transportation, in the comment section below.