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The world’s first autonomous buses will debut in Switzerland in spring 2016

As driverless cars continue to undergo testing on the streets, one company is applying the technology to public transportation. Swiss startup BestMile has developed a system to control fleets of autonomous vehicles, which the company compares to the functionality of an airport control tower. The company acquired its first commercial contract by teaming up with PostBus (known as CarPostal to the Swiss French), a major bus operator in Switzerland and France.

BestMile was founded in January 2014 by two graduates from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). Since then, the new company and the research university have been working together to develop algorithms for autonomous public transportation. These buses will face traffic, pedestrians, and other obstacles and must deal with them in a safe and efficient manner. The autonomous system must be reliable, flexible, and able to function alongside existing transport systems. BestMile’s software will allow the operators of these vehicles to be able to monitor, control, and optimize their fleet remotely in real time as needed.

Related: Should autonomous cars sacrifice their occupants for the greater good?

Navya autonomous bus

BestMile cofounder Anne Koymans cites a leading developer of autonomous vehicles as an influence that led to the company’s first commercial project. “There is a lot of interest for driverless mobility solutions, partly thanks to Google,” Koymans said in an interview with The Local. “Cities are interested but also public transport operators and the interest is increasing.”

Koymans points out that while Google aims to put more driverless cars on the road, BestMile is focusing purely on public transportation. There will also be development in what she calls “the last mile,” meaning the leg of a user’s journey between their stop and destination.

BestMile has been seeking funding to improve its developing technology. Previous successful projects include CityMobil2, a pilot platform for automated road transport systems.

French manufacturer Navya is designing and developing the 100% autonomous driverless and electric ARMA buses that will be provided to CarPostal/BestMile. Two existing shuttles have already been sold to CarPostal.

Autonomous buses carrying up to nine passengers will be introduced to the city of Sion, Valais in spring 2016, and will undergo two years of testing.