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A driverless taxi called Snuber is picking up passengers in South Korea

With driver assistance systems and self-driving technology emerging as a key theme of CES 2016, the ambitious efforts of vehicle makers and tech firms in the sector have never been clearer.

There’s plenty going on away from Vegas, too. Take Seoul National University in South Korea, for example. Its Intelligent Vehicle IT Research Center has just unveiled a fully operational self-driving taxi currently being used to transport disabled students around the university’s 4,109 square meter (44,200 square foot) campus, the AP reported.

Going with the name “Snuber,” which sounds a bit like a gentle put-down of a well-known ride-hailing outfit, the vehicle has actually been tootling about the university for the last six months, with no accidents reported. The video above shows the driverless sedan coping comfortably with others cars, intersections, and pedestrians crossing the road.

Cameras on the roof constantly scan road conditions, with on-board laser technology and an array of sensors also working to ensure Snuber doesn’t career off the road or perform any illegal maneuvers.

At the current time, the self-driving taxi has to have a person in the driver’s seat in case of a malfunction, while the university’s own road regulations allow for a top speed of just 30 kmh (18.6 mph).

Seo Seung-Woo, director of the university’s research center, said Snuber isn’t quite ready for regular roads, but forecast that by 2020, driverless cars will be taking passengers between tollgates on highways, while a door-to-door service using self-driving cars could be operating within 15 years.

Meanwhile, engineers in Japan are hoping to have driverless taxis on the streets of Tokyo by 2020, taking passengers and athletes between locations during the Olympics.

Discussing the project, government minister Shinjiro Koizumi told the Wall Street Journal, “There are a lot of people who say [self-driving cars are] impossible, but I think this will happen faster than people expect.”

Staying with Asia, China, too, is keen to prove it’s no slouch when it comes to self-driving transit technology, with one company, for example, developing a driverless bus that it recently sent – packed with passengers – on a 20-mile incident-free ride through a major city.

Yutong, the company that helped build the vehicle, has spent the last three years working with the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a number of driverless-car experts to develop the bus’s tech, which includes two cameras, four laser radars, and an integrated navigation system.

Like Snuber, Yutong’s bus and Tokyo’s taxi aren’t quite ready to go mainstream, but the breakthroughs achieved by a growing number of engineers and researchers show those 2020 goals look increasingly likely to be met.

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Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
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