Driver-free shuttle bus to run in Pangyo in December

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Driver-free shuttle bus to run in Pangyo in December

The day of the autonomous vehicle has not quite dawned in Korea, but some glimmers are showing on the horizon. The Korean government will allow unmanned shuttle buses to ply the streets of Pangyo, Gyeonggi, by the end of this year.

That is one step closer to the goal of offering autonomous shuttle bus services at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics next year.

The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport Thursday said it will run a 12-passenger fully autonomous shuttle bus service between Pangyo station and Pangyo Creative Economic Valley, a distance of 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles) starting in December.

This should be the first commercial application of unmanned vehicles in Korea.

The Transportation Ministry said it plans to revise regulations to speed up the operation of autonomous vehicles on actual roads.

Under existing regulations, in case of unexpected situations, an autonomous vehicle has to have at least two passengers so someone can take control.

The government plans to follow the lead of California, where fully autonomous vehicles without steering wheels, brakes or accelerators have been approved.

The government said it plans to use a cooperative, intelligent transport system (C-ITS), which is a next-generation traffic system.

C-ITS is a technology in which drivers and traffic managers exchange information digitally to increase road safety and traffic efficiency.

“Since February, we have tested an autonomous vehicle that covered 26,000 kilometers,” said Lee Seung-ho, deputy minister of transportation and logistics at the ministry. “Other than a few cases in which a driver had to take over, there were no exceptional accidents.”

The government opened 320 kilometers of road, including part of the Gyeongbu Expressway from the Seoul tollgate to the Singal intersection, for autonomous vehicle test runs.

The vehicle also traveled on the Yeongdong Expressway between Singal intersection and the Hobeop intersection.

Lee said a real-world use of the shuttle bus will not have major safety risks because it will run at only 30 kilometers per hour (18 miles per hour).

“We plan to deal with any problems that could surface through cooperation with local government and police, while stationing safety agents along the [Pangyo] road and subscribing to insurance policies,” Lee said.

The government will also run a command center that monitors the traffic situation and watches for other road risks in Gyeonggi.

The government plans to run an autonomous shuttle bus developed by Hyundai Motor during the Winter Olympics that kicks off in February 2017.

Full commercialization of autonomous vehicles is expected to take place between 2020 and 2030 and carmakers and IT behemoths like Google have been competing in their development. Hyundai Motor demonstrated an autonomous vehicle at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week.

Safety is a key concern, especially since the first fatal accident that took the life of a passenger in Google’s self-driving vehicle last February.

Google says that since it first started working on the unmanned vehicle in 2009, there have been 17 accidents, with none fatal until last year.

BY LEE HO-JEONG, HAM JONG-SEON [lee.hojeong@joongang.co.kr]

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