Self-driving buses coming to San Ramon office park

A fleet of self-driving buses will shuttle workers around a sprawling East Bay office park next year, the latest evidence that robot vehicles are swiftly moving from science fiction to reality.

French firm EasyMile, a joint venture between carmaker Ligier Group and high-tech company Robosoft, has partnered with the Contra Costa Transportation Authority on a pilot project at the 585-acre Bishop Ranch business park in San Ramon.

No public dollars will be spent on the vehicles, nor will any money be exchanged in the preliminary agreement that also allows the French firm to use the transit agency’s GoMentum road test site at the former Concord Naval Weapons Station, said CCTA spokeswoman Linsey Willis.

Two of the boxy, electric-powered shuttles will arrive at Contra Costa County from France next summer, testing themselves around the old naval station before venturing out to the San Ramon office complex that is home to Chevron, PG&E and other big corporations.

EasyMile has already deployed its low-speed EZ10 shuttles — known as SDVs, or Shared Driverless Vehicles — in closed environments in Finland, France, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. At one location, the shuttles travel around an amusement park. In another, they take day-trippers from a parking lot to a beachfront. Much like the self-driving cars being developed by Google and other Silicon Valley companies, the vehicles use high-definition internal mapping software to know their routes and various sensors to avoid pedestrians and other obstacles.

But the vehicles will have to be modified to follow the new self-driving handbook from the California Department of Motor Vehicles, which is already in force for testing on public roads and still being developed for consumer use.

“In Europe these are truly driverless cars; they don’t even have a steering wheel,” but in California a steering wheel, brake pedal and accelerator must be added, Willis said.

After re-purposing much of Concord’s vacant naval station into a test lab for autonomous and Internet-connected vehicles, CCTA has been working for months to court companies working on high-tech automotive research. Honda is now testing a self-driving Acura RLX sedan around the empty 2,100-acre city, Mercedes-Benz previously used the site and Tesla and Apple expressed interest earlier this year.

Above and below: The EasyMile EZ10 Shared Driverless Vehicles. (Photo courtesy of EasyMile)

EasyMile EZ10 Shared Driverless Vehicles

EasyMile EZ10 Shared Driverless Vehicles

 

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