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Gacha robotbus – The first autonomous shuttle bus in the world for all weather conditions

Sensible 4 combined their expertise with Japanese MUJI to create an elegant robotbus, first in the world to function in all weather conditions. For this shuttle Sensible 4 provides the autonomous driving technology which ensures the vehicle with superior positioning, navigation and obstacle detection performance. MUJI provides the vehicle its famous design and user experience.

Weather plays a critical role in opening the market for autonomous buses or robotaxis. Currently heavy rain, fog or snow are preventing autonomous vehicles from driving as the existing technologies are mostly being tested and developed in warm climate conditions. Meanwhile, Sensible 4 has focused in technology test and validation under the arctic Finnish Lapland conditions giving the company a unique advantage over the other self-driving technologies.

Elegant robotbus that drives through rain, fog and sleet

The advanced technology of autonomous driving has a lot of potential in urban environments but also in the countryside where decreasing birth rates and aging populations are causing problems in these communities. The GACHA autonomous shuttle bus can be shared among the community which paralleled MUJI’s philosophy. Thus, the collaboration with Sensible 4 started in 2017 through introduction made by Helsinki Business Hub and GACHA was launched in Helsinki in March 2019.

“The GACHA development got started when Sensible 4 team, working back then with the first generation of robot buses, noticed that they just don’t perform at all even in light rain, not to mention the typical winter conditions in Finland. Completely autonomous self-driving technology is not here yet. Most self-driving cars can operate only in ideal weather conditions and well-marked roads. This is what Sensible 4 has managed to change through repeated tests in the harsh winter conditions of the Finnish Lapland”, says Harri Santamala, CEO of Sensible 4.

Sensible 4 is an Espoo-based startup that delivers systems to autonomous vehicles and aims on collaborating with the leading automotive OEMs and their suppliers. Their software can be integrated into any autonomous vehicle platform from small cars to full -size buses. The company provided the technology for GACHA, including superior positioning, navigation and obstacle detection to allow year-round autonomous driving regardless of the weather. MUJI, a Japanese lifestyle retail company, provided the vehicle’s design, developing the functional aesthetic and optimum user experience.

Aside from its all-weather capabilities, MUJI’s design differentiates GACHA from similar projects, in particular the vehicle’s lack of a front or rear. The interior seating follows the soft rounded square shape of the bus, creating more space for passengers while the LED light belt serves as both headlights and an external communication screen. Inspiration for the design came from a toy capsule, a universal shape that embodies joy and excitement, bringing peace and happiness to those who encounter it.

Integrating robotbuses into the daily transportation service chain

Finland is leading the way in developing autonomous system and the government is committed for further enabling future intelligent mobility. One major advantage is the favorable Finnish legislation for new experiments – the Finnish legislation not only allows automated vehicles to be used in public roads but also encourages the digitalization of all transport services. The recent heavy deregulation makes it easier for new types of transportation services to enter the market. Also, the cities of the Finnish capital region are committed and open in enabling new mobility services and solutions, like GACHA, being developed in the area.

“We are developing these vehicles so that they can become part of daily transportation service chain. Autonomous vehicles can’t become mainstream until their technology has been insured to work in all climates”, says Harri Santamala, CEO of Sensible 4.

After the preview in March, GACHA began pilot operating for the general public in Espoo in April 2019, later rolling out to Hämeenlinna, Vantaa and Helsinki. MUJI and Sensible 4 are currently planning to produce the first GACHA fleet for use on public roads in 2020 for various cities in Finland and abroad. MUJI and Sensible 4 aim for the self-driving shuttle fleets to operate as a part of the cities’ existing transportation systems in 2021, with a long-term objective of establishing partnerships with other pioneering cities around the world.

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