Bloomington demos driverless bus

(WISH Photo)

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WISH) — More than 100 people hitched a ride on a self-driving bus in Bloomington Friday as part of a demonstration with the city and French company EasyMile.

City officials shut down traffic on Kirkwood Avenue in front of Indiana University for the bus demonstration because autonomous vehicles are not licensed for legal road traffic in any state.

“We just heard about this opportunity about 10 days ago and, so, they said, ‘Say, we’re going to be kind of in your area, would you like us to stop by and do a demonstration,’ and we were thrilled,” said Mary Catherine Carmichael from the city of Bloomington communications.

EasyMile engineer Christian Elmiger said he mapped out the route Thursday in about 4 hours, programmed it into the bus’s computer system, and chaperoned each ride Friday.

“It can go forth and back in both directions. It’s symmetrical,” Elmiger said. “There’s no front or back to the bus.”

The bus called EZ10 carries 12 passengers, six seated and six standing. Its cruising speed is 12 mph, with a maximum speed of 25 mph, and it runs of a lithium-ion battery with up to 14 hours of operation per charge. It uses cameras, GPS and lasers to navigate and contains three “emergency stop” buttons within reach of the passengers. Bloomington officials said they believe buses like this are in their future.

“In a way it’s not that different because you’re getting on a vehicle and it’s taking you to the library or taking you down Kirkwood. But then you look around and realize nobody’s driving this thing,” Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton said. “It’s taking me there and it’s quiet and it’s all electric. Then you realize that’s where we’re headed.”

“People are saying, ‘Well, this is really cool, I would love this!’ People have already said, ‘Gosh, I wish you had one of these right now that just went up and down Kirkwood that I could jump on and head from one end to the other.’ So I think that the seeds are planted,” Carmichael said.

Passengers 24-Hour News 8 spoke to said they believed the ride was smooth and felt safe.

“I thought that there was going to be a wheel at the front with no person in it but instead there isn’t even any wheel. There’re all seats and there is no wheel!,” said a young girl, riding with her mother.

“I think it’s great. It’s a smooth easy ride. I can imagine riding this in a regular basis,” said a man who works on Kirkwood Avenue.

Elmiger said EasyMile has 50 of these electric buses, but they aren’t licensed to drive on open roads like other autonomous vehicles.

The Democrat mayor said he’s happy to see Bloomington looking toward the future and is hopeful to see these buses are licensed and serving his city in coming years.

“Part of the future is certainly going to be autonomous vehicles that are going to help make that more efficient, less impactful on the environment, more fun,” Hamilton said.