Self-Driving Vehicles for Urban Mobility Deployed in European Smart Cities

The EU FABULOS project brings self-driving buses to smart city streets. From this spring onwards, three autonomous vehicle prototypes will be evaluated in real-life conditions in five European cities.
Susan Fourtané
Autonomous bus for urban mobility©Susan Fourtané 

The autonomous bus revolution has arrived. Urban mobility is changing the lives of commuters and the face of five European smart city streets. An autonomous public transit service has already started its testing and will complete tests in real conditions in five European countries under a European Union initiative, part of the Horizon 2020 EU Research and Innovation Programme, between April and October 2020.

The autonomous vehicles will be tested in real-life traffic conditions with all the shuttle bus solutions offering an all-inclusive service for autonomous last-mile transport.

The EU-funded FABULOS (Future Automated Bus Urban Level Operation Systems) project will run the pilot tests in Gjesdal (Norway), Helsinki (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia) in the spring and fall. Pilots will also be launched in Lamia (Greece) and Helmond (The Netherlands) in the fall this year. The autonomous buses will join the existing public transport systems. 

The functionality, interoperability, and security of the autonomous fleets will be evaluated in each city. According to a FABULOS project press release, all the pilots will take place in urban settings, but each pilot location has its own special challenges. In Gjesdal, there is a 12 percent incline due to the mountainous terrain, whereas in Lamia, high temperatures must be successfully managed.

In the Netherlands, the large number of cyclists must be taken into consideration, and in Helsinki the route passes the second busiest train station in the country. In Tallinn, the connection to the airport will be improved, leading to challenges with factors such as existing bus traffic.

In all pilot sites, the shuttle services will be tested to ensure the functionality of remote operability from the control room. According to FABULOS, the buses must be able to autonomously overtake obstacles such as parked cars. In addition, the shuttles are expected to be driverless, and a safety person will only be allowed on board if local regulations require this.

One of the project partners, SAGA, has developed a turnkey transportation-as-a-service (TaaS) platform. The platform combines both autonomous and human-driven vehicles. According to SAGA, its TaaS platform includes all aspects of launching a publicly accessible autonomous vehicle service, including service design, autonomous vehicle management, and fleet routing. 

Using the TaaS platform, multiple automated and human-driven vehicles can be integrated into a larger public transport system, all over an open application programming interface (API) SAGA will operate up to three vehicles in Norway and The Netherlands using both autonomous and human-driven vehicles.

An autonomous bus tale of five cities

The piloting of the self-driving shuttles has already started in Helsinki, Finland. Pilots in Gjesdal (Norway) and Tallinn (Estonia) are scheduled to start in mid-June 2020. However, there might be some delays due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

Later on, during the fall of 2020, the other pilots will be launched in Lamia (Greece), Helmond (The Netherlands), and again in Gjesdal. Each of the suppliers will pilot their autonomous bus solutions in two cities.

In order to complete the third phase, the consortium received up to €740,000 ($821,000) --excluding local taxes-- to validate their prototypes, prepare pilots, and implement operational systems.

The third phase of the PCP (pre-commercial procurement) project is set to verify and compare the prototype solutions in real-life conditions. This will be based on an assessment by the technical evaluation committee and the external evaluation panel.

Three consortiums were invited to partake in this final phase:

  • The Sensible 4–Shotl Consortium: Including two partners: Sensible 4 from Finland and Shotl from Spain. The consortium is using the automated Gacha bus from Sensible 4 and MUJI

  • The Mobile Civitatem Consortium: Including four Estonian partners: Modern Mobility, Tallinn University of Technology, AuVeTech, and Fleet Complete. This consortium is building and testing their own autonomous vehicle – ISEAUTO

  • The Saga Consortium: Including four partners: Halogen, Forus PRT, and Ramboll Management Consulting from Norway together with Spare Labs from Canada. The consortium will work with Navya, one of the established European shuttle manufacturers

How smart cities can use automated buses in a systematic way: Benefits for smart cities and society

EU project Fabulos autonomous bus
Self-driving vehicles for urban mobility in smart cities / Source: FABULOS 

The project is applying a systematic approach; meaning the all-inclusive solution the cities are deploying is not merely about the self-driving vehicle, but also about the fleet management capabilities, the control room functions, and the integration in existing public transport.

Intelligent transportation systems and an integrated transportation approach are paramount for the future of urban mobility. Self-driving buses for urban mobility constitute a sustainable evolution and development of public transportation.

The adoption of self-driving buses in smart cities means there will be a significant reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. Autonomous buses have a well-balanced mobility system based on the concept of co-modality, and they foster the general longer-term goal of sustainable and liveable cities.

Autonomous vehicles for postal deliveries have been deployed in cities around Europe earlier. In Norway, Posten-Norge, the Scandinavian country’s postal service, has robots to deliver letters and parcels. For this, Posten-Norge teamed up with Buddy Mobility, the company supplying the robot.

Autonomous buses and the future of urban mobility 

  •  A one-stop-shop or off-the-shelf solution for Smart Cities, Public Transport Authorities, or other entities procuring public transport services for the future

  • A system that can drive in regular speeds, without an operator or steward on board, in mixed city traffic, while dealing with unexpected obstacles, and in all weather conditions

  •  A solution that will make last-mile PT more flexible, clean, and efficient

  • A solution that will stimulate co-modality, including the real-time information of the location of trunk lines (rail, other buses, trams, metro) in order to provide seamless modality changes

  •  A solution that can easily be fully integrated into any public transportation ecosystem

  •  A solution that is, overall, easily scalable

Autonomous buses for public mobility in Finland

On April 14, 2020, a fleet of three self-driving vehicles was scheduled to begin operating in Pasila, HelsinkiDue to the COVID-19 situation, no passengers were allowed on board then. As Helsinki eases lockdown, the pilot continues until June 30 at least, and it will have a minimum of 50 operational driving days, validating both the technology and compliance with the public transport systems.

The driverless vehicles are supported by an on-demand mobile application and a Remote Control Centre (RCC) for autonomous vehicles. The new shopping center ``Mall of Tripla in Pasila, which counts with a Nokia-Telia 5G network, serves as a mobility hub connecting the train station, bus terminal, bike parking, and tram stops. The number of passengers changing transport modes at the mobility hub is projected to reach 100,000 users per day by 2035. 

These developments were already considered when Pasila was chosen as the pilot site for testing autonomous buses as part of the urban public transportation systems.

The vehicles in the FABULOS project drive along a circular route in Eastern Pasila. They go from the Pasila station next to the Mall of Tripla, then they turn north to circle back to the Messukeskus conference and exhibition center, where the biggest events in Helsinki take place. 

The Pasila route runs around a large block consisting of offices and private housing, together with several public services and authorities. The autonomous buses ride partly on a separate lane with speeds of up to 40 km/hour

The route includes several crossroads with traffic lights, right turns, street side parking, and a roundabout. There are three bus stops on the route: Pasila station, Messukeskus, and Asemanpäällikönkatu street. On-demand rides between the existing bus stops are booked via the Shotl App and service. The fleet of three vehicles is operated and monitored from a Remote Control Center (RCC).

Finnish software company Sensible4 and Spanish company Shotl are in charge of the pilot operations. Sensible4 focuses on all-weather autonomous driving and Shotl created the application. 

Sensible 4’s autonomous bus technology is mainly based on laser scanners and visible light cameras. Besides laser scanners and cameras, the Sensible4 technology uses sensors like thermal imaging, high-precision satellite navigation, and inertial measurement units. Autonomous driving is not dependent on satellite navigation.

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 the environmental impact. In my opinion, the FABULOS project can greatly contribute to achieving this goal by demonstrating the benefits of autonomous public transportation,” the Mayor of Helsinki, Jan Vapaavuori, said in a statement.

By introducing autonomous vehicles for public mobility, the cities are accelerating the introduction of new types of automated last-mile solutions that are entering the European market. When the trials have been completed, the procuring cities and preferred partners will initiate a public procurement of innovation.

This follow-up procurement will be a topic of discussion during the FABULOS Final Conference, which is expected to take place on November 26, 2020 in Helsinki.

Autonomous buses for public mobility in Estonia   

Tallinn is the vibrant and constantly evolving capital of Estonia, named by many the world's most advanced digital societyIn the Ülemiste district, the ISEAUTO self-driving buses are going to be using dedicated smart bus stops, and they will become an integral part of the district's usual traffic. 

The planned start date for the deployment is June 15, 2020 and the three shuttle buses will be operational for at least 50 days.

The new self-driving bus route runs from Tallinn Ülemiste City e-Estonia Briefing Center to the International Airport, and from there to a Ülemiste shopping center. Connecting Ülemiste City –the biggest privately owned business campus in Northern Europe– with Tallinn International Airport and Ülemiste shopping center gives an opportunity to test the new mobility service with a large number of passengers. 

People working in the business district are going to enjoy a convenient way of moving around the area. The aim of incorporating self-driving buses is to make public transport more user-friendly and smoother. It is also a way of encouraging employees in the area to use less private cars. 

The autonomous shuttle buses do not have a separate lane but drive in normal traffic. During most of the pilot route the traffic is up to 30 km/hour, one stretch of 500 meters from the shopping mall to the airport is up to 50 km/hour. The route includes both right and left turns. The Ülemiste City quarter has mixed traffic including pedestrians and cyclists at low speed. 

The self-driving shuttle bus operates in self-driving mode in the vast majority of the situations while the option to manually override remains to assist in difficult or preferable circumstances. The autonomous shuttles are monitored by human operators remotely by using novel 5G technology.

The vehicle is a prototype of ISEAUTO, which is an autonomous SAE Level 4 electric shuttle developed by Tallinn University of Technology (TalTech) and Auve Tech.

autonomous electric shuttle developed by Auve Tech and Tallinn University of Technology
The autonomous electric shuttle developed by Auve Tech and Tallinn University of Technology operates in Tallinn as part of the EU FABULOS project /Source: Auve Tech

A tele-operation solution implemented is capable of controlling a number of vehicles over the 5G network. Tele-operation enables the monitoring and control of all vehicles from the Remote Control Center and takes over the control in case ISEAUTO requests help or human intervention if needed.

During the field-tests critical issues such as cybersecurity, safety, V2X, and social acceptance are going to be evaluated. The results will contribute to make the future of public transport safe and secure for urban environments. 

Tallinn University of Technology, in particular, is dealing with innovative technologies, research, and analysis of self-driving vehicles' behavior and mobility based on the Ülemiste City experiment.

Fleet Complete software is used for bus maintenance and for collecting feedback of shuttle performance. Modern Mobility provides the digital mobility management platform. 

The platform itself is a dynamic mobility solution. It includes solutions for on-demand transportation, micro mobility for rural and suburban areas. The Software as Service (SaaS) based mobility management system consists of a mobility service planning module, passenger module, and smart bus stops. 

Through the system, the public transport operator can design micro mobility services setting the service areas, fixed and dynamic routes, bus stops, pricing policies, and service schedules. The system also has a passenger application and applications for infotainment inside the shuttles and in bus stops.

Several other driverless bus projects are running in Tallinn as well. In August 2019, the first passengers of the Sohjoa Baltic driverless bus project completed a trip. The Sohjoa Baltic project research promotes and pilots automated driverless electric minibuses as part of the public transport chain, especially for the first and last mile of connectivity.

In Estonia, the project is run by the Tallinn Transport Department in cooperation with Tallinn University of Technology (Taltech).

Autonomous buses for public mobility in Norway 

self-driving buses in Norway
Autonomous shuttle conceived by NAVYA/Source: NAVYA 

Gjesdal is a small town close to Stavanger, the energy capital of Norway. The 11-seat self-driving shuttle bus pilot route runs between a residential detached house area located on top of a hill and a commercial area located in a valley.

The autonomous shuttle bus is going to be serving local shoppers and school children. Since 2014, the central area in Gjesdal has gone through an award-winning urban regeneration.

The chosen pilot route offers challenges in terms of speed, an incline of 8 percent, and partly restricted views on crossroads. The speed limits are between 30–50 km/hour, and there are some steep hills along the route, as well as high trees.

The route includes street side parking, turning left and right, one roundabout, a pedestrian bridge, and 14 crossings with pedestrians. There are no traffic lights on the route.

The shuttle bus is an effective and clean mobility solution that provides excellent autonomous transport performance as well as a comfortable journey for the first and last mile due to the gentle navigation, according to NAVYA, a specialist in the autonomous vehicle market. 

Pilots for the self-driving buses for urban mobility will also be launched in Lamia (Greece) and Helmond (The Netherlands) in the fall this year. 

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