Olympics runs on self-driving cars, electric buses

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Olympics runs on self-driving cars, electric buses


Clockwise from top left: Hyundai Motor’s hydrogen-electric bus, which will shuttle visitors between Gangneung Station, a major rail hub, and Gangneung Olympic Park; a hydrogen charging station at the Yeoju Rest Area in Gangwon set up by Hyundai Motor; and an incapacitated driver warning system that tracks a driver’s eyes and sounds an alarm when it detects drowsiness. [HYUNDAI MOTOR]

Attendees of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics will have a chance to ride vehicles of the future, including shuttle buses powered by electricity and cars that drive themselves.

Hyundai Motor Group, the country’s largest automaker, and the public utility Korea Electric Power Corporation, both official partners of the Games, are supplying eco-friendly cars and charging facilities for electric cars while promoting technology they have developed.

Hyundai Motor and Kia Motors are providing more than 4,000 vehicles including sedans, vans and buses to shuttle athletes, sports officials and spectators between venues at the Olympics. A good portion of them are relying on green power.

In addition to free transportation, Hyundai has five of its new hydrogen-powered sport utility vehicles Nexo available to test. In particular is the car’s autonomous driving technology, which is Level 4 on the Society of Automotive Engineers’ index, meaning the car can largely drive on its own except for some emergency situations where a human has to intervene.

Hyundai is testing the model at the Olympics before putting it to wide release. The test course is a 7-kilometer (4-mile) route that includes curvy roads, roundabouts and intersections.

In each session, a Hyundai engineer will occupy the driver’s seat in accordance with local regulations, but the car will largely drive on its own. Out of safety concerns, it will maintain speeds below 50 kilometers an hour.

The self-driving Nexo is able to accelerate, slow down and stop on its own by using Lidar sensors to inspect its surroundings, including road conditions and presence of nearby vehicles. It relies on preloaded map data as well as GPS readings.

The test drive takes less than 15 minutes and is available for anyone who signs up at the Hyundai Pavilion near the PyeongChang Olympic Stadium or online.

Longer test drives are available from Gyeongpo Lake in Gangneung and Jinbu Terminal in Pyeongchang, though these Nexo cars do not come with autonomous driving technology. Instead, they are meant to show off the automaker’s hydrogen fuel cell technology, on which the car is powered.

The hydrogen car is able to run 600 kilometers on a single charge, which the company says takes less than five minutes. Fifty of these cars, which will go on sale in Korea in March, will be available at the Gangneung and Pyeongchang test sites.

The Korea Electric Power Corporation will be using Hyundai cars to transport government officials and company executives. It has purchased 150 Ioniq electric vehicles for various business purposes at the Games.

To ensure smooth travel, the state utility installed 26 rapid charging stations at major Olympic venues around Gangneung and Pyeongchang. “It may not be a lot,” an official from the company said, “but we are happy that we could be of small help to the Winter Games and align with the organizing committee’s intention of making this a green Olympics.”

Four hydrogen-electric buses made by Hyundai Motor will shuttle visitors between Gangneung Station, the city’s main rail hub, and Gangneung Olympic Park. It comes with an incapacitated driver warning system that constantly monitors the eyes of a driver to ensure he or she remains awake. If the driver begins to doze, the system sounds an alarm.

A fifth bus will operate as an express bus carrying VIP guests from Yangyang International Airport to sites in Pyeongchang and Gangneung.

“We are going to operate the hydrogen-electric bus topped with state-of-the-art technology for the safety of visitors coming to see the global event,” Hyundai said in a statement. “Even after the Games finish, we will put our best effort into secure commercial vehicle safety in Korea’s public transportation.”

BY JIN EUN-SOO [jin.eunsoo@joongang.co.kr]
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