Wild and Woolly Driverless Tech Testing in Norway

Oslo kicked off its plans to integrate autonomous vehicles into its network transport network in January 2021 with a year-long autonomous vehicle trial.

The city’s transport network is operated by Ruter, the public transport authority for Oslo and Akershus county in Norway. With its partners it is operating the pilot in Nordre Follo municipality, near Oslo. As part of the pilot two Toyota Proace Verso conventional and EV vehicles, which are being equipped with autonomous driving software from self-driving technology from Finland’s Sensible 4. The partners claim that it is the right model to support this automated transportation solution as it has room for up to six passengers, including a ramp for wheelchair users.

Toyota, which provides the vehicles, says the project will introduce connected and autonomous driving technology to explore how it can be used to improve public transport in general and to itself, its partners and suppliers for the emergence of autonomous technology.  The ultimate ambition is to eventually be able to convert the fixed route the vehicles will drive around to an on-demand service for customers to be able to determine when and where they want to be picked up.

There are plans afoot, too, to expand the fleet later this year. The ambition is for Ruter to eventually be able to deploy hundreds of self-driving vehicles in the Oslo area, which has around 1.3M inhabitants. Of particular interest is to deploy the technology on a commercial basis. Future expansions depend on technological advancement and development and changes in regulations and legislation in Norway.

Project manager for autonomous vehicles at Ruter, Lars Gunnar Lundestad, said: “Our aim is to shortly integrate autonomous vehicles into our transport systems, hence create a network of on demand self-driving electric vehicles operating symbiotically with the subway, tram, large regional buses and boats in the larger Oslo area.” A spokesperson from Toyota, speaking on behalf of all the partners said: “Ruter believes autonomous vehicles are an important part of the mobility solutions of the future. They can provide possibilities for transport services that are not available today and they offer the opportunity to expand traditional public transport.”

Software integration

Tommi Rimpiläinen, co-founder and COO of Sensible 4, said that his company’s role is to provide and integrate its self-driving software into the Toyota Proace vehicles, making sure that they can drive autonomously in all weather conditions. He comments that to date it’s been a learning curve, particularly when the seasons changed: “Some of the roads on the route are very narrow and it was interesting to see how the technology could manage it with snow. It’s been going quite well.”

Yet, there have been some software updates and they are collecting data about the driving and roads conditions to make other kinds of improvements. The software updates have been minor but new versions of the software have been rolled out. He adds: “Our competitive advantage is built on driving in challenging conditions, and so we were approached by Toyota because of the difficult driving conditions in Norway, which can cause a lot of trouble for self-driving vehicles. We have our R&D in Finland, and once the software is developed it is rolled out to the vehicles. There are plans for on-demand services, remote controlling whereby the vehicles can be supervised from a distance, and dynamic routing so that when there is a bigger fleet, they would be able to change the route depending on the situation or demand.”

Locating tech

Holo’s role is as an operator of autonomous vehicles. Hans Fridberg, the company’s project manager says its role is to locate the best autonomous vehicle technology on the market, and then put it into operation for its customers.

He explains: “We handle permits, daily operation, safety and continuous risk management as well as the data flow. In addition, we all have our specific roles. In Ski we have four companies working together. Ruter handles the customer side of things. They will have the app for dispatch management, planning the route and for booking. They will then send the message to us, which we would validate and then we send it on Sensible 4 who will execute with the vehicle while we will monitor it. Toyota is there to learn from the project and to provide the vehicles.”

Fridberg says the tests are about putting the vehicles into operation, running them all hours of the day, all year round. The complete system is evaluated to see if it’s feasible to provide on-demand autonomous vehicle services – even when it snows. As well as legislation and technological developments, he thinks scaling up the project and its sustainability will depend on how the project progresses – adding that part of this equation is the ability to take the driver our of the vehicle.


Rimpiläinen adds: “It is self-evident that the autonomous vehicles must work safely in varying weather conditions. Therefore, testing and development has been conducted in Nordic weather conditions like rain, snow, and cold temperatures. Sensible 4 has also been testing the vehicles both in a closed area and on public roads in mixed traffic in the area next to our office in Espoo, Finland.”

He considers the test to be formidable, from which the partners continue to learn as much as they can each day. Yet, the partners claim Ruter is no longer performing tests. They say the transport authority is now operating a small fleet in an area where people live, hence the vehicles are continually exposed to all kinds of Norwegian weather conditions. Eventually, the services will be expanded to a wider geographical area, with the aim of increasing value for the benefit of customers despite increased exposure to “an ever-expanding traffic complexity.”

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