The Apolong is a strange vehicle. It looks more like a cable car cabin than a bus. Designed with soft lines and especially generous windows, it can accommodate 14 people sitting opposite each other. None leads. There is no steering wheel because this electric minibus moves alone. You can travel 100 kilometres with a full battery, which takes just over two hours to charge. And it has a top speed of 70 kilometres per hour that never reaches.
At the moment it moves at a speed that rarely exceeds 30 km / h, and replaces the traditional little trains and carriages destined to make less heavy walks through large areas, such as natural parks. But this is only the beginning of a path that seems long.
At the moment, although it does not require a driver, Apolong moves only along pre-established routes. In tourist parks, for example, they follow a circuit and stop at certain stops. The same happens in industrial complexes, where they connect companies or go from one pavilion to another. They can avoid obstacles and stop to prevent accidents, but never deviate from the programmed path. That is the requirement that is lacking to reach the maximum level of autonomous driving, 5.
However, Apolong demonstrates how Chinese companies are taking the lead in the implementation of new mobility models. They are no longer just prototypes that are tested in closed circuits, but vehicles that operate in real conditions.
It is an advantage that different Chinese car brands are taking advantage of. Because, if there is one thing in which those who develop technologies of the future agree, it is in which the automotive sector is going to be the one that lives a deeper transformation at the intersection of ‘big data’, artificial intelligence, and the arrival of 5G networks.
Aware of this, the Chinese government itself is promoting the development of these vehicles. For this, in addition to offering soft loans and grants, it has established different projects in leading cities, such as Shanghai, where public and private institutions can experiment with driverless cars.
The National Pilot Zone for Connected Intelligent Vehicles of the economic capital is a good example of this. In its 5 square kilometres, 15 kilometres of roads have been built that simulate different situations so that companies that develop autonomous vehicles can test them without a problem.
One of the most promising is also a bus. Although, in this case, it is a vehicle that already has about 50 passengers and, for the moment, still maintains the steering wheel. Several engineers work on the autopilot system and have already tested it at a cruising speed of 60 km / h, much faster than the Apolong. The objective is that the Shanghai area open to autonomous vehicles is gradually growing and that these buses become commonplace before the end of the decade.
The introduction of these fleets of vehicles without a driver will be gradual and not only for the transport of people but also for freight. Not surprisingly, in addition to Apolong, Chinese technology has introduced the Neolix AX1, a small logistics vehicle that is capable of carrying packages to its recipients without a human being involved.