China Unveils Driverless Tram That Travels By Following Lines on the Road

China has announced a new public transport innovation that seems to be a hybrid of a bus, a tram and a train.

The mass transport vehicle, currently being developed by Chinese firm CRRC, is being called the Autonomous Rail Rapid Transit (ART) and will also not need a driver when it hits the road in 2018. The prototype was unveiled on Friday in the city of Zhuzhou in central China’s Hunan Province.

ART, or simply the “smart bus,” runs on the road like a typical bus would, but adopts a train’s modular build, allowing carriages to be added on later, Mashable reports.

While it won’t need tracks, the vehicle is designed to follow a preset path in the form of white-dotted lines on the road. It will simply be equipped with sensors that can read the special road markings.

CRRC chief engineer Feng Jianghua describes it suitably as being, “like having a virtual rail for the bus.”

The smart bus, which has a top speed of 70 kilometers per hour (43.5 mph), will have a default length of 30 meters and has a 300-passenger capacity based on three carriages. As mentioned earlier, more carriages can be added or removed, so the length and capacity may be adjusted as needed. According to CGTN, it will be powered by a lithium titanate battery that will allow it to cover 25 kilometers from just 10 minutes of charging.

Creators of ART proclaim that its construction and assembly will be cheaper than subway or tram systems since it doesn’t require a complicated infrastructure to set up. Observers see the new transit system as a perfect fit for many Chinese cities that are unable to build expensive train tracks.

The city of Zhuzhou plans to construct a 6.5 km ART line soon, with a target schedule of operations as early as next year. Xinhua reports that building just a kilometer of a subway track may cost up to $102 million, but a standard length ART bus costs just around $2 million.

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