From flying taxis to a London shuttle: Here are five of the coolest driverless concepts

Caroline Blennerhassett
A driverless shuttle has hit the capital
A driverless shuttle has arrived in the capital (Source: The Gateway Project)

Over the next decade, driverless technology is set to transform not only how we drive, but the prospect of owning a vehicle.

Advances in artificial intelligence, cameras, sensors, and radar are making this possible.

With that in mind, here are five of the most exciting autonomous prospects on the horizon...

Read more: Not a load of garbage: Volvo's testing driverless rubbish trucks

1. Airbus’ flying driverless taxi

An artist's impression of how it could look (Source: Airbus)

Airbus is designing a flying driverless taxi that can be summoned with an app on your smartphone.

The company has said that the first prototype could be built and tested as soon as the end of next year as part of the project Vahana, by A^3, the company’s Silicon Valley base.

Airbus believes the global demand for flying cars will be extensive, running into millions and that demand will combat immense development costs. However, Vahana also requires reliable sense-and-avoid technology. While this is just starting to be introduced in cars, no mature airborne solutions currently exist.

2. Harry the driverless London shuttle

London autonomous shuttle (Source: The GATEway Project)

Brought to London this year as part of the Gateway Project, and developed by Oxbotica, Heathrow Enterprises and Westfield Sportscars, the driverless shuttle, named Harry, travels up to 10mph and is controlled by a computer. The shuttle seats four people and has no steering wheel or brake pedal.

Harry is part of a trial to observe how the technology functions alongside people in a natural environment. The shuttle uses its software to detect and dodge pedestrians and cyclists whilst transporting the members of the public around.

Five cameras and three lasers help the shuttle navigate its path, and avoid obstacles. Over an eight-hour period of operation, the shuttle can gather a huge four terabytes of data, equivalent to 2,000 hours of film.

3. Waymo’s Firefly

Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, took a spin in the self-driving ride on public roads
Steve Mahan, who is legally blind, took a spin in the self-driving ride on public roads (Source: Waymo)

Starting out in 2009 as part of the Google self-driving car project, Waymo is now working independently, to “free up people’s time, and improve mobility for everyone”.

It recently announced that its self-driving bubble car, the Firefly, will be phased out - but the two-seaters without pedals and steering wheels, have been hugely important as a platform for the firm to "experiment and learn", lead industrial designer YooJung Ahn and lead systems engineer Jaime Waydo, wrote in a blog post.

Waymo is focusing on integrating its tech into other vehicles rather than building its own, saying that having built "a truly self-driving vehicle from scratch", it will help the firm bring driverless tech to "more people, more quickly".​

4. Mercedes-Benz's Future Bus

Mercedes-Benz Future Bus on the road (Source: Daimler)

Wanting to bring autonomous transportation to the public, the Future Bus with City Pilot can self-drive just like a truck with Highway Pilot. The difference is, this bus can also identify traffic lights, steer through tunnels, and can recognise pedestrians and bicyclists.

Currently, the Mercedes-Benz Future Bus has a top speed of 70 km/h on the open road and is programmed to operate in bus only lanes. The bus uses GPS, camera systems and radar sensors to perform these driving tasks. It was unveiled last year, driving more than 12 miles from Amsterdam's Schiphol airport to Haarlem, just outside Amsterdam.

The Future Bus is also programmed to navigate into bus stops with great accuracy. City Pilot enables the bus to pull in so that it is less than 10 cm from the pavement, allowing easy access for passengers.

Mercedes-Benz says the bus is also more fuel efficient than a human-operated city bus and its easy, predictive driving style “saves wear and tear.”

Interior of the bus (Source: Mercedes-Benz)

5. Cruise Automation's app for hailing driverless cars

North American International Auto Show Features Latest Car Models
Chevrolet Bolt EVs have been used by Cruise Automation (Source: Getty)

Self-driving startup Cruise Automation was acquired by GM last year to accelerate its push into driverless cars.

And the GM division recently announced it was testing an app for hailing self-driving cars. It has created a mobile app to request rides in self-driving Chevrolet Bolt EVs and is being trialled by employees to request a ride from their home to the office.

Like most of its competitors, General Motors is betting on autonomous cars being the future of transportation. But GM has been fairly secretive in its endeavours to create a fully autonomous, safe car, and decided to forgo releasing any images or footage of any public tests until this January.

Cruise Automation has also released a couple of videos documenting its test rides. Check it out in action:

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