It's pretty easy to spot the current generation of autonomous shuttles on the road. They're generally symmetrical, since they don't need a driver, and they're usually... kind of ugly, to be honest. But a combination of Japanese design and Finnish tech might have resulted in the prettiest AV shuttle to date.
Gacha is the creation of Muji, a Japanese retail company with an eye for minimalism, and Sensible 4, a Finnish company working on autonomous-vehicle development. The vehicle, which will be used primarily in Finland to start, was designed to withstand all sorts of weather conditions.
Yet, bulking it up for the rigors of winter didn't make it ugly. It's an excellent use of simple design techniques, with soft curves and a simple black-gray color split at shoulder height. Between both colors lies a screen that broadcasts the shuttle's intent to the public, whether it's slowing to let passengers by or stopping to pick people up. The interior is equally sparse, but it's still pretty, with dark seats and light body panels. It'll hold 10 people in seats, or six standing up.
Being from Finland, Sensible 4 has tested its autonomous equipment in harsh winter weather, which is still a sticking point for a great deal of AV developers. The Gacha is loaded with four lidar emitters, eight radar emitters, 360-degree camera coverage and GPS. It can be remotely controlled via a 4G LTE antenna. Its powertrain is entirely electric, and all four wheels are connected to its electric motors. The company estimates a range in excess of 62 miles per charge.
The Gacha won't be shown off in public until March 2019, when it will be unveiled in Helsinki. Following that, it will exist as part of a three-city pilot program that will integrate the shuttle into real traffic. Both companies intend to deploy a fleet of these shuttles in 2020 or so.
(Hat tip to Fast Company!)