Autonomous public transport in Stockholm, Sweden

Autonomous bus in Stockholm, Sweden (credit: Ericsson)

March 05, 2018      

Twenty-odd European cities are currently experimenting with autonomous vehicles in public transport. Other cities are carrying out studies that will most likely lead to concrete tests within the next five years.

European cities outperform their global counterparts in urban mobility. This is the finding of a report by consultancy Deloitte, which calculates an urban mobility index. Helsinki, Amsterdam, and London lead the ranking of 18 urban centers worldwide when it comes to readiness for the Future of Mobility. Deloitte looked at a wide-ranging set of themes, including resilience, inclusion, and vision.

In 2015, Dutch automobile association ANWB published an overview: “Experiments on Autonomous and Automated Driving.” While three years old, the report still provides a clear picture of ongoing developments.

Future of public transport in Sweden more connected, responsive

The most recent example of a major city’s administration experimenting with autonomous public transport is the Swedish capital, Stockholm. The project, managed by telecommunications company Ericsson, started in January 2018 with two autonomous shuttle buses driving up to 24 km (14.8 miles) across pedestrian areas, bike lanes, and roads.

At the core of the project lies Ericsson’s Connected Urban Transport (CUT) platform. CUT is a virtual bus driver for the Stockholm shuttles. It communicates with sensor-heavy intelligent bus stops, traffic lights, and road infrastructure. CUT connects everything and everyone on and around the road.

The CUT platform forms an ecosystem where all networked stakeholders are allowed to exploit and monetize their data and to also enhance their end-user services. The solution is based on a managed cloud platform and includes built-in scalability and modularity, according to Ericsson. This flexibility allows the system to easily adapt to the environment in which it is used with almost no modifications to existing operations.

Traffic services are provided by exploiting application programming interfaces (APIs) through a service catalog. The catalog is the repository of all traffic information and the optimization services available to data consumers and service providers. The holistic and external view of the platform is available online. Via APIs, service providers can request traffic information and optimization services. Depending on the involved stakeholders, these requests may include:

  • Events: Road hazards, incidents, roadwork
  • Weather conditions
  • Vehicle state: Floating car data
  • Traffic conditions: Speed, flow, travel times
  • Segment state: Dynamic data, such as matrix signs, TLCs
  • Section report: Historical data
  • Road restrictions: Transport restrictions

In order to test the public’s reactions to driverless shuttles, passengers were blindfolded before boarding the bus. At the end of the trip, they were confronted with their ride’s lack of a driver. Some of their responses can be seen in this video (English subtitles).

France leads Europe in making driverless vehicles

EasyMile is developing autonomous public transport solutions

EasyMile is developing fully autonomous, electric public transport (credit: EasyMile)

While Sweden is a European and global pioneer in terms of public space management and the environment, France takes the lead in autonomous vehicles. This is in large part thanks to Easymile, the largest manufacturer of autonomous vehicles. The company is conducting tests in Lausanne –EPFL (Switzerland), Sohjoa, an area in the Finnish capital Helsinki, Vantaa, a Helsinki suburb, Sophia Antipolis (southern France), San Sebastian (Spain), Wageningen (the Netherlands) and Trikala (Greece).

Easymile’s main tool is the Ligier EZ10, a six-seater driverless electric vehicle. Their maximum speed is 50 kilometers per hour (31 mph); their radius is approx. 400 km (248 miles). The vehicles are steered by GPS, 3D imaging, and a radar system. They have six seats and room for four standing passengers, and wheelchairs can be accommodated. The vehicle doesn’t have a front or back: it can go in any direction without turning around.

The EZ10 uses video imagery to determine correct road positioning. It continuously observes a virtual path along a route driven by hand once in the past. It can detect barriers (including humans) as far as 50 meters (164 feet) ahead and respond by slowing down or stopping. The vehicle was designed to cover fixed routes in industrial areas, theme parks, or airports.

Another French company, Navya, markets smaller autonomous vehicles, resembling robo-taxis. The company claims to have transported 150,000 passengers in Europe, Asia, and the US without incident.

U.K., Netherlands developing

While France is a trailblazer, many other European countries have ongoing experiments into autonomous public transport.

The U.K. has finished tests on 3 miles of regular motorways; the government has allocated GBP 150 million ($214 million U.S.) until 2021 for further tests.

Roboats are autonomous boats bringing public transport to Amsterdam's canals

‘Roboats’ could soon be ferrying people around Amsterdam autonomously (Credit: AMS Institute)

Amsterdam’s famous medieval canals have been the setting for experiments with so-called Roboats, captain-less personal transport boats. 5-meter (16 feet) cargo versions will be employed to lessen the city center’s traffic congestion.

In Rotterdam, the Netherlands, a test involving the Park Shuttle, an autonomous bus connection between a metro station and an industrial park are to be continued and extended this year.

A £13.4 million ($19 million) initiative to create a driverless transport testing area based in the Royal Borough of Greenwich and nearby Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in London is due to be up and running by spring 2019.

Loughborough University, the lead academic partner, has been awarded £500,000 ($710,000) as part of the project to develop a research program enabling a real-world working test bed for connected and autonomous vehicles.

The Smart Mobility Living Lab, where London will enable companies to trial their ideas, technology, and services within complex public environments; helping them develop new vehicle systems and big city transport applications.

German car manufacturers plan autonomous future

The German car industry has always been a strong proponent of autonomous vehicles. The government supported the industry, as shown in its late 2015 strategy document: “Strategy for Automated and Connected Driving.” Finances were provided through the Electric Mobility and Automated Driving R&D program.

Remarkably, tests are limited to three locations: Munich, Berlin, and Bad Birnach. This may be due to a critical 2015 report by the German public transport trade association: “Scenarios for Autonomous Vehicles – Opportunities and Risks for Transport Companies.”

Leading European car and truck manufacturers, including Audi, Volvo, BMW, Mercedes, MAN, DAF, Scania, Iveco, Daimler, Ford, and Volkswagen are all preparing for the autonomous vehicle future.

Apart from market tests, countries such as Germany, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, and the U.K. are preparing laws and regulations.

It is notable that Germany is working on ethical regulation autonomously, without European Union coordination.

The European Commission (the EU’s executive branch) takes a positive attitude towards autonomous vehicles, as evidenced by the report “Autonomous Cars – A Big Opportunity for European Industry.” European regulation currently being prepared by the European Commission will mainly focus on uniform technical standards and liability.