An Indian firm, Hi-Tech Robotic Systemz, and a Swiss firm in fleet and route management, BestMile, are planning to run driverless public-transport shuttles in private campuses in India, Singapore and the US. Bestmile already runs about 10-20 driverless buses in Switzerland, France, Australia and Qatar.

“In India, the deployment potential is in campuses of 1,200 colleges and top Fortune 500 companies (as there are fewer regulations in private campuses),” said Ritukar Vijay, Autonomous Vehicles Tech and Strategy Leader of Hi-Tech Robotic. Hi-Tech Robotic, which specialises in autonomous vehicles, will use BestMile’s expertise in the Cloud-based fleet-and-route management space for mass deploying these vehicles. In Switzerland, SwissPost, which operates the bus network, is one of BestMiles’s customers. “The 10,000th passenger got onto a driverless SwissPost bus a month ago. These have been in operation for four months. These are free as of now, during the trial phase,” Raphael Gindrat, CEO, BestMile, recently told BusinessLine . The buses move around at a speed of 10-30 kmph.

Investor interest

There is investor interest from within and outside of India for both the companies. “Having done the proof of concept, we have generated huge interest from India and other parts of the world,” said Vijay. Hi-Tech Robotic Systemz has been working on defence and industrial vehicles for 12 years. All driverless deployment is in ground-based transportation.

The company launched the driverless electric vehicles/shuttles at an autoexpo in January. BestMile can track the public transportation of all bus operators’ network in the Cloud.

Hi-Tech Robotic’sself-driving vehicles were used at the Reliance Jio campus in the trial phase.

“The market for driverless vehicles is $12-15 billion. The commercialisation is expected to happen by 2020,” Vijay said.

BestMile says that despite a lot of interest from investors, it has avoided taking investment from automobile majors yet, in order to be a public-transport operator; it wants to maintain a company-agnostic stance.

The companies are choosing places with controlled or moderate traffic and where the wireless network is good, as in Switzerland, where they operate these buses using the 2G/3G network. In India, they are looking to use a closed-loop or wireless-access network.

Hi-Tech is working on converting existing vehicles of Tata and Volvo, which are its customers — into autonomous vehicles to be operated in a bus rapid transit system. The commercial model for operating such buses is a challenge.

The company is starting with smaller buses for 10-15 people in the exploratory phase for the last mile-market in India, while larger buses are expected in three years.