Will Self-Driving School Buses Ever Be Practical?
published on September 11, 2018 by Sonia MastrosIt's impossible to follow technology news without hearing the words "self-driving" on an almost daily basis. Both vehicle and technology groups around the world are racing to have the first street-ready autonomous vehicles in every field of motoring imaginable.
Now, add school buses to that list. As reported by TechCrunch, German auto giant Volkswagen recently unveiled a concept for a self-driving electric bus-type vehicle that, they say, could potentially supplement traditional school bus fleets sometime in the future. Called SEDRIC (from SElf DRIving Car), it is more of a shuttle than a true bus, but targeted at school districts.
This is a concept vehicle, and therefore will probably never come to market in its current form. However, it certainly raises a lot of questions about whether autonomous vehicles will ever "graduate" to school-readiness.
Are Autonomous School Buses the Future?
The Volkswagen SEDRIC is, admittedly, a very nice looking piece of technology. It's sleek and has a bubble-style design that seems like it would fit into a 1960s or 70s futurist aesthetic. It currently seats four, which would make it far too small to replace any traditional school district transportation functions. Perhaps Volkswagen thinks they can create these cheaply enough that schools could invest in a swarm of autonomous vehicles, rather than a handful of large buses?
Further, they've clearly put at least some thought into usage, particularly with the inclusion of a large STOP sign on the back panel. That, along with the bright yellow coloration, would help it stand out on roads.
Still, any issues one might have with the idea of autonomous cars in general would double for one intended to shuttle children. Among the many issues that would have to be addressed:
- What kind of crash survivability does it have? The current design looks flimsy.
- What sort of security measures does it include? For example, if someone attempted a carjacking or kidnapping, could they be stopped?
- What about electronic intrusions? How hack-proof is it?
- What happens in the event of breakdown? Do passengers have any capability to call for help?
As an aside, one issue it would likely not have is much rollover potential. The batteries which power electric vehicles are extremely heavy, and virtually always put on the vehicle's undercarriage - giving them a center of gravity so low that it's almost impossible to tip over in normal circumstances. So there's that, at least.
Either way, it's hard to imagine districts or parents being comfortable with the idea of trusting their children to a robot anytime soon. The SEDRIC is undoubtedly many years from becoming reality.
What do you think? Will people ever be able to trust self-driving school buses without adults on-board? Let's discuss it below!