Europe’s CityMobil2 Tests Driverless Public Transit

Burney Simpson


CityMobil2 just may be the little engine that could.

This highly ambitious but low-key project from the European Union could have implications for autonomous transportation projects worldwide. If it goes as planned CityMobil2 will energize Europe’s move to driverless public transport.

In a nutshell, CityMobil2 is designed to supplement existing public transit systems, offering collective, semi-collective and personal on-demand shuttle services. Its cybercars offer a ride-to-the-ride where demand is low or pick-up points far apart, getting consumers to the nearest mass transit or bus station where they will transfer for the next leg of the journey.

There are already several multi-month, on-road tests in smaller and larger locales that are being coordinated by the Centre for Transport and Logistics at the University La Sapienza in Rome.

The goal in the near term is learn how the autonomous vehicles interact with other road users, and to develop the technical specifications and communications architecture for automated road transport systems. This in turn will help the Eurozone develop a legal framework for certifying automated road transport systems across the continent. The EU announced in 2014 a budget of $10.7 million (9.5 million Euro) for the project.

For the road tests, the CityMobil2 image is a cute, bug-like vehicle, called a Cybercar, one of those glass bulbs with no front or back. (No phallic Corvette Stingrays for this project.) Cybercars operate autonomously using obstacle-avoidance technology on the existing roadways among vehicles, bikes, and pedestrians.

The three major cybercar providers for the CityMobile2 project are:

  • Netherlands-based 2getthere markets and develops Automated People Mover Systems for personal and group transportation;
  • French Robosoft provides operational robotic solutions in various areas, including transport of goods and people; Robosoft was involved with the first CityMobil project in Rome;
  • France’s EasyMile designs, manufactures and markets autonomous ground transportation vehicles; it’s a joint venture of RobotSoft’s parent and Ligier Group.

Last July, the first MobilSoft2 demo began in the small Sardinian village of Torre Grande with two automated vehicles from Robosoft. The nearby town of Oristano provided infrastructure and logistic support, and the regional public transport operator ARST managed the operation of the service. Transport consultancy MLAb coordinated the demo.

Vehicles operated among bicycles and service vehicles on a seven-stop, 1-mile route along the seafront promenade. The cybercars had to turn around and travel back along a pedestrian-busy route. ARST provided a ‘driver’ for each vehicle because Italian law requires that a human be on board to supervise and take control in case of emergency.

Last fall, CityMobil2 began operating in the larger La Rochelle, a French coastal town. That six-month demo is scheduled to culminate in a series of events on March 30-31, including a workshop on the socio-economic impact of road transport automation.

The next large on-road demonstration will start in May at the 2015 Expo in Milan, Italy.

CityMobil2 is also holding public awareness campaigns in the test cities to promote the project and its possible benefits.

While the tests go on, CityMobil2 is conducting a socio-economic study that considers the future of various cyber-mobility alternatives in Europe up to the year 2050. The study will research whether the public will accept the move from car ownership to the extended use of shared fleets of driverless vehicles; what are the economic benefits to be derived from automated vehicles, and can they replace the benefits experienced from today’s vehicle market; and, would Europe gain a technological edge by shifting to autonomous driving, and could it benefit economically by exporting this technology to the rest of the world?

A lot of big questions for a project that began with a few bug-like vehicles carrying tourists and workers along the seashore. But CityMobil2 is shaping up to be the little engine that could.

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