Robo-Bus Trials Start in European Cities

Robot buses have begun trialing in a European city as manufacturers and local authorities assess the autonomous technology.

Under the banner of the FABULOS project, Helsinki in Finland was the first to see autonomous buses work urban routes. The piloting of the self-driving shuttles has already started in the city while other pilots including in Gjesdal, Norway, and Tallinn, Estonia will follow this June 2020.

Naturally, there may be some virus affected delays to the planned schedules but the project hopes that during the autumn of 2020 pilots will also be launched in Lamia, Greece, Helmond in the Netherlands and again in Gjesdal. Each of the vehicle suppliers will pilot their robot bus solutions in two cities.

As part of each 50-day field trial period, the functionality, interoperability and security of the autonomous fleets will be assessed. After each of the pilots, representatives of the six FABULOS procuring partners will carry out an evaluation process. A pre-commercial procurement does not have one “winner”: all robot bus prototypes are expected to be commercialized and can be part of a follow-up procurement.

The project has been running 18 months in a bid to evaluate the technology in real-life urban conditions. All the shuttle solutions offer an all-inclusive service for autonomous last-mile transport, while testing their own unique features and adapting to the geographical challenges.

During the field-testing phase of the project’s pre-commercial procurement, each of the three suppliers chosen for this phase receives up to €1M ($1.1M) to prepare pilots and implement operational systems to validate their prototypes. The three supplier consortia, composed of several companies representing five nationalities, are Sensible4-Shotl (Finnish–Spanish), Saga (Norwegian–Canadian) and Mobile Civitatem (Estonian).

The Helsinki pilot began in April with a fleet of three autonomous vehicles, including the Gacha robot bus, drives along a circular route starting from the busy Pasila Railway Station, riding partly on a separate lane, with speeds of up to 25mph. The majority of the route is in mixed traffic and includes several crossroads with traffic lights, right turns, street-side parking and a roundabout. There are three bus stops on the route and on-demand rides are available via a mobile app.

Technologically, the shuttle buses do not need a driver or steward on board. For the first time in Europe, the fleets are monitored from a newly established remote control center. In case of exceptional situations, a remote operator can give permission to pass an object, such as a car blocking the road, or take over the control of the vehicles.

Mayor of Helsinki, Jan Vapaavuori, said: “Helsinki aims to be the most functional city in the world. Innovation to support the best urban life conditions possible is in the core of our strategy. As such, the promotion of sustainable modes of transport is considered as a high priority. We aim for a pleasant environment, good accessibility and fluent transport as well as the reduction of environmental impacts. In my opinion, the FABULOS project can greatly contribute to achieving this goal by demonstrating the benefits of autonomous public transportation.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_

One comment

  1. Avatar Rodney Wilson 2nd June 2020 @ 12:24 am

    All they need is wireless charging and they will truly be autonomous

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