The traditional yellow bus experience is dead. It is likely that kids will no longer greet the bus driver on the way to school in a small SWFL community. Nor will they be able to blame the bus driver for being behind schedule or driving erratically.
There will be a school bus, in the traditional yellow tone, with no driver. It will take children from the Babcock Ranch community in Punta Gorda to and from school on a daily basis. School bus basics will be rewritten if the autonomous vehicle is successful.
However, before the self-driving school bus makes its debut Sept. 14, an operator will be on board for a series of test runs. The school bus operator is expected to supervise up to 11 children in these test runs.
For now, to ensure the safety of passengers on the bus, the innovative transportation vehicle will drive 8 miles per hour or less. If it is successful, the autonomous student transportation vehicle will travel at faster speeds.
AV Chief Operator, Jason Perez, is able to control the self-driving bus, but not with a traditional steering wheel.
Instead, he will control the school bus using a device that has an appearance similar to a video game controller. The device is a big yellow box with two joysticks.
One of the joysticks is to accelerate forward while being capable of maneuvering the self-driving school bus in reverse. The second joystick controls the direction of the self-driving school bus. It can move the large vehicle to the left or to the right.
The self-driving school bus was built with sensors all around the vehicle. The sophisticated software is able to identify if something is in front of it, which will cause the vehicle to stop. The omnibus is also equipped with help call buttons.
"If someone’s in trouble they press this button -- it acts as an intercom," Perez said, as he pointed his finger within inches of the button. "Somebody from the control center will be watching them from behind you. There’s a camera inside a speaker. So I’ll be able to hear you and talk to you at the same time."
Syd Kitson, Chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners, recognizes that the number of autonomous vehicle on the roads will continue to grow in upcoming years. However, Kitson recognizes the technology is not yet perfect.
"There’s been an enormous amount of work," Kitson said, "to make sure they’re safe."
The bus was created and developed by Transdev. The public transport operator creates autonomous vehicles. But this will not be a bus that people will see on public streets.
SWFL residents will not see the self-driving school bus outside of the Babcock Ranch community. Until the technology is perfected, the yellow vehicle is being treated as a learning laboratory.
The public charter school at Babcock Ranch has a total enrollment of 316 students. The students range from Kindergarten to grade seven. The number of those students living at Babcock Ranch is expected to increase as new homes under construction are completed.