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Deutsche Bahn Launches Driverless Bus Trial on Public Roads in Germany

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【Summary】The current route brings passengers to a public railway hub at no cost (rides are free in the trial). Deutsche Bahn operates a state-owned railway and is currently experimenting with electric-mobility solutions for local customers.

Michael Cheng    Nov 04, 2017 6:15 AM PT
Deutsche Bahn Launches Driverless Bus Trial on Public Roads in Germany

From Las Vegas to Dubai, driverless buses are hitting the streets, as developers test their prototypes in live environments. With approval from transportation authorities, the latest city to launch an autonomous shuttle trial is Bavaria, Germany.

Facilitated by a partnership between Deutsche Bahn and EasyMile, the prototype unit can hold a total of 12 passengers – six sitting, six standing. Deutsche Bahn operates a state-owned railway and is currently experimenting with electric-mobility solutions for local customers.

"We've just driven autonomously into a new era of transport," said Deutsche Bahn CEO Richard Lutz. "Today, Bad Birnbach and the Deutsche Bahn have actually written a bit of traffic history in Germany."

EasyMile Self-driving Bus

EZ10, the autonomous bus deployed for the pilot program, is equipped with numerous safety features to help local passengers feel at ease during the trip. When shuttling groups across a pre-programmed route, the vessel is only capable of going 9.3 miles per hour. External sensors help the unit avoid pedestrians and city structures. Should the bus encounter a situation it cannot handle safely, an accessible joystick is available for human intervention.

"Most of our shuttles have been to more places than I have," said Lauren Isaac, director of business initiatives at EasyMile.

The current route brings passengers to a public railway hub at no cost (rides are free in the trial). According to the French startup, the business will expand its routes around Germany in 2018. Eventually, company wants to offer a private shuttle service that picks up customers from any location within its network.

Compared to developing driverless platforms for private vehicles, using autonomous technology to solve bottlenecks in public transportation is significantly easier. This is because self-driving buses often travel on the same route during operation.

Most of the focus during development is on making external sensors more reliable, for deployment in congested areas. Furthermore, mapping and autonomous platooning configurations, which are challenges for driverless trucking fleets, are not major points of development for public, self-driving buses.

Autonomous Driving Solutions for Mass Transportation

Deutsche Bahn is fixated on expanding autonomous driving technology to improve the lives of local citizens. The company's projects involve making current public transportation systems more efficient.

"We want to show that autonomous cars don't have to be limited to luxury consumer vehicles, they also have a role in public transport," highlighted Mr. Barillère-Scholz, research team leader at Deutsche Bahn. "The market in Germany for this type of vehicle is huge."

Outside of Germany, Finland is pioneering the testing of driverless buses. The country recently completed a successful trial using two EasyMile vessels, along a small neighborhood in Helsinki. Due to the positive results of the pilot, city officials will be launching a regular self-driving shuttle service, called RoboBusLine, by the end of 2017.

In the US, Nevada is the place to be for businesses launching autonomous bus pilot programs. The state has hosted several trials within the Las Vegas strip, ranging from Navya's electric bus (Arma) that was unveiled during CES 2017 earlier this year and Audi's V2I traffic light information system.

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