Autonomous driving is well and truly here, with one of the latest innovations expected to begin operations in April this year.
Japanese lifestyle retailer MUJI and Finnish autonomous driving company Sensible 4 came together to launch GACHA, the first autonomous driving bus for all weather conditions.
While Sensible 4 provided the technology for the vehicle, including positioning, navigation and obstacle detection to allow year-round autonomous driving regardless of the weather, MUJI provided the vehicle’s design, developing the functional aesthetic and user experience.
GACHA’s debut test-drive took place in front of the new Oodi Helsinki Central Library, a significant site in the Finnish capital. The autonomous bus will begin operations in April in Espoo, before rolling out to Hämeenlinna, Vantaa and Helsinki later in 2019.
MUJI and Sensible 4 are currently planning to produce the first GACHA fleet for use on public roads in 2020 for various cities in Finland with plans to establish partnerships with other pioneering cities around the world.
Aside from its all-weather capabilities, MUJI’s design also differentiates GACHA from similar projects, in particular the vehicle’s lack of a front or rear. The interior seating follows the soft rounded square shape of the bus, creating more space for passengers while the LED light belt serves as both headlights and an external communication screen. Inspiration for the design came from a toy capsule, a universal shape that ‘embodies joy and excitement, bringing peace and happiness to those who encounter it.’
“The GACHA development got started when Sensible 4 team, working back then with the first generation of robot buses, noticed that they just don’t perform at all even in light rain, not to mention the typical winter conditions in Finland,” says Sensible 4 CEO Harri Santamala.
“Completely autonomous self-driving technology is not here yet. Most self-driving cars can operate only in ideal weather conditions and well-marked roads. This is what Sensible 4 has managed to change through repeated tests in the harsh winter conditions of the Finnish Lapland.”
Helsinki Business Hub CEO Marja-Liisa Niinikoski hopes this innovation will highlight the region as a place of innovation.
“Greater Helsinki is a global pioneer in offering services and creating new businesses through smart mobility solutions. There are several reasons for that. One of them being the favourable Finnish legislation for new experiments – the Finnish legislation not only allows automated vehicles to be used in public roads but also encourages the digitalisation of all transport services,” says Niinikoski.
“The recent heavy deregulation makes it easier for new types of transportation services to enter the market. In Greater Helsinki, there are also several urban testbeds enabling the creation of new smart mobility solutions and the city hosts the first open mobility-as-a-service ecosystem in the world.”
Some of the key facts about GACHA include: