Driverless bus hits pedestrian, report says

Navya operates autonomous buses in a number of cities globally at the moment.

A number of fully autonomous vehicles are being tested in different environments around the world. But as a recent incident in Austria reveals, even in limited environments in real-world traffic they may not offer a superhuman level of reaction to unforeseen obstacles. A driverless bus made by Navya operating on a fixed route in Vienna has been taken offline after hitting a pedestrian in the knee, Bloomberg reports. The 30-year-old woman suffered minor injuries as a result of the accident, during which the bus was reported to be moving at 7.5 mph.

While authorities in Vienna suspended autonomous bus operations pending an investigation, the cause of the accident could be in dispute. A statement received by The Verge from Navya claimed that witnesses had seen the woman looking at her phone and wearing headphones while crossing the street during the impact.

The French startup currently operates the Arma bus in several cities around the globe, but it has only operated the one in Vienna since early June, Bloomberg noted.

The most widely reported prior collision involving a pedestrian autonomous vehicle, one not produced by Navya, happened in 2018 when an autonomous-converted Volvo XC90 with a backup driver behind the wheel fatally struck pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in Tempe, Arizona. The autonomous prototype was being tested by Uber at the time and struck Herzberg while she was crossing two lanes of traffic on foot while pushing a bicycle. In the aftermath of the collision, Uber stopped testing autonomous vehicles in three U.S. locations and one location in Canada, with the death serving as a wake-up call to a number of companies that were testing autonomous tech at the time.

The use of autonomous buses along fixed routes is seen as the more logical stepping stone to full autonomy, rather than robo-taxis, following the widespread use of autonomous trains and trams. A number of companies, including Navya, is currently operating autonomous buses in a number of cities around the globe, most carrying well under 10 passengers at a time. Electric buses and trolleybuses are seen as the most realistic platforms at the moment that could be put into actual operation, following a near industry-wide disillusionment with fully autonomous robo-taxi technology that was predicted several years ago to arrive early next decade.

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