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South Korea is taking ambitious steps to become the world leaders of autonomous vehicles by 2030.

As early as this November, test operation of autonomous buses will be commenced in Sejong City, with autonomous buses set to commercialised and officially introduced to the public transportation system by 2023.

In an effort to realize the vision, the nation hosted a “Smart Mobility Conference Sejong 2019” at the Sejong Convention Center late last month to conduct test runs of automated buses with the participation of local citizens.

The demonstration showcased technologies of the vehicles including:

  • precisely stopping at a bus stop
  • passing a roundabout with prescheduled takeover procedure
  • receiving traffic signal information through V2X communication
  • requesting to get on and off the bus using a smartphone application.

A unique feature of the proposed autonomous bus service will be the ability to stop at locations decided by passengers, which aims to increase ridership and assist those who are physically handicapped. Passengers will be able to select spots for pick up or drop off through their smartphone applications, according to the project officials.

“The bus will recognise passenger demand at each station and will operate based on that data,” said Kang Kyung-pyo, a researcher at the Korea Transport Institute (KOTI).

Currently, buses with Level 3 autonomous driving technology are under test operation.

“The bus uses not only data from its sensors but also real-time traffic information,” Kyung-pyo said. “For instance, if the bus is to make a left turn at a crossroad, it analyses the time duration of the left turn signal and makes the move when it is considered safe.”

The ministry officials have said eight buses with Level 4 autonomous driving technology will be deployed in 2021, covering a 35.6-kilometre-long section.