Robot bus stops in London

A driverless shuttle bus is now running in London as the UK tries to cut traffic congestion Navia robot bus near O2

 The vehicle – called a Navia – is built by French company Phoenix Wings and already operates in Singapore, Stanford University in California and a campus site in Lausanne, Switzerland.  Entirely robotic, the electric vehicle steers itself by using ladar (laser assisted radar) to map its surroundings. It has no sides, no seats and no fixed itinerary. Passengers can summon a Navia using an app on their smartphone, or hop on and off as it trundles at around 12 miles an hour along the streets of Greenwich that are assigned to it.

Phoenix Wings CEO Pierre Lefevbre told FI: “There is no reason why it cannot run on the roads, like it does in Singapore. But that requires new laws and regulations’.  Hear the full interview:

Lefebvre tells how he selected Greenwich because it has some of the worst traffic problems in the UK. The Blackwall Tunnel, running south to north beneath the river Thames, regularly causes tailbacks of up to five miles during the morning and evening rush hour. Next to these traffic jams is the North Greenwich Peninsula, a zone earmarked for hi-tech development with Smart City sensors, a digital arts and media university and the O2 – formerly the Millennium Dome – a gigantic tent that houses the world’s most heavily-used music venue. The town of Greenwich itself hosts nine million tourists every year and has its own university and music college. That all adds up to a volume of traffic that saturates the roads and pollutes the atmosphere. And it will only increase if plans to build another tunnel underneath the Thames and a port for luxury cruise liners go ahead.

 Navia self-driving bus

Navia robotic bus

The Navia driverless bus ‘like an elevator on wheels’

Yet the Phoenix Wings Navia is not a complete solution, as Lefebvre readily admits. It is part of an experiment that will put driverless vehicles of different types and specifications onto the roads in six locations across Britain. In the five other cities different types of driverless vehicle, such as cars and pods, are being trialled. The Department of Transport is overseeing the experiment and one of the goals is to establish liability in the case of accidents involving driverless cars – an issue tackled in the Future Intelligence report Can we Make the Digital World Ethical? published in 2014 and available to by from IT Governance.


Launching the experiment, Transport Minister Clare Perry said : “The UK is already a world leading centre for vehicle research and technology. We have some of the best innovators, engineers, facilities and opportunities for automotive investment in the world.”  The driverless bus has received a warm welcome from local councillors in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. But whether a Navia with no sides, no seats and no fixed route or destination will do anything to ease congestion remains to be seen, and that is the aim of the experiment.