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Helsinki hope to make car ownership obsolete as self-driving buses roam the city

The Finnish capital of Helsinki has launched its autonomous transportation system as self-driving buses take to the streets of the innovative smart city. French company Easy-Mile have developed the small electric buses which can transport up to nine passengers at speeds of up to 25mph - although it has been confirmed that they’ve been restricted to 7mph during their trial period.

Two buses designed by the French company began travelling the roads of Helsinki this week in real traffic, and it has captured the imagination of Helsinki residents who are intrigued by the new form of public transport in their city.  The buses are being used primarily to move passengers between two busy public transit stations in the city’s waterfront Hernesaari district, and the vehicle has a bus driver stationed on-board in case of any emergencies that may arise.

Many other locations in the world have tested autonomous vehicles, most notably Singapore, but that has taken place in controlled test environments, in Helsinki this project is being implanted amongst real traffic.

The project is part of Helsinki's ambitious plan to make car ownership in the city obsolete within a decade. The city already has a very efficient public transport system, but it is also developing an on-demand mobility program, which would allow people to use integrated mobile apps to book and pay for any trip by bus, train, taxi, bicycle and car sharing.

Helsinki's Deputy Mayor Pekka Sauri said the city wants to be internationally renowned for smart urban transport solutions. "We hope more companies and research institutions in Helsinki will be developing self-driving buses," he said in a statement.

The buses will make their debut in two other Finnish cities -- Espoo and Tampere -- later this fall. They'll be taken out of action after the first snowfall, but then return to the roads in the spring.

Finnish law does not require a driver to be present in vehicles, easing the way for self-driving transport options.

"The law doesn't actually require it, it's the way it has been written historically, but the government has embraced it in relation to self-driving vehicles," said project manager Harri Santamala.

This exciting development in innovation and technology comes on the back of a statement made by car giant Ford who have indicated that its self-driving vehicles will be in mass production within the next five years.

On Tuesday, the company released a press statement that said: "Self-driving Fords that have no steering wheels, brake or gas pedals will be in mass production within five years. These cars will be very different from the current models of self-driving cars that Ford and other companies are now testing."

Those vehicles still have space for drivers, who are expected to take control of the cars in case problems arise. Ford says its goal is to have true self-driving cars in which everyone inside is a true passenger.