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Cities Should Start Testing Autonomous Transit: Planner

Burney Simpson

Cities should begin testing Level 5 autonomous vehicles now in last mile/first mile transit applications to stay ahead of the coming changes brought by driverless technology, according to Grush Niles Associates, a transportation planning consultant.

Implementing Level 5 transit on an incremental, application-by-application basis will help it to expand and spread as demand grows, the consultants write in “Getting Past the Hype” in the new Thinking Highways, North America.

Level 5 vehicles, defined as fully autonomous and capable of operating without a driver, have been successfully used in several cities in Europe during the CityMobil2 project. Cities include La Rochelle, France; Lausanne, Switzerland; near Helsinki, Finland; and Trikala, Greece.

The providers include EasyMile, Navya, RoboSoft, and 2getthere. Specs vary but a typical vehicle is electric-powered, has a range of 50 miles, and can carry 12 passengers. They have onboard navigation systems and obstacle detection systems, and are monitored from a control room.

EasyMile is scheduled to begin operations at a business park this year in California (“Driverless Shuttle Gives Momentum to GoMentum Station“).

“These vehicles run in controlled loops through residential areas to a work area,” says Bern Grush. “Level 5 (vehicles) are here for constrained, simple transit.”

TRANSIT LEAP

Transit Leap approach from Grush Niles Associates.

Grush calls his approach Transit Leap, where “public-use, robotic, shared-mobility applications” will encourage consumers to shift to transit and away from single-owner cars.

His goal is a transportation system where 40 percent of trips are done on public transit, 40 percent are provided by a private transit owner (Uber, for example), and 20 percent in a privately-owned car.

In comparison, today about 90 percent of trips are done in a privately-owned car, with the remaining 10 percent delivered either by public transit or a private transit provider like Uber or a cab company, says Grush.

Grush’s goal contrasts with the concept seen in the futuristic driverless cars showcased by Mercedes and Volvo at events like CES 2016. These still have a steering wheel and play on the desire by many consumers to own a car, he says.

“If they have a steering wheel, it’s designed to be a (consumer) vehicle,” said Grush. “If not, then it’s transit.”

The future vehicles from the auto OEMs generally have an autonomous technology of Level 3, or conditional automation. Drivers must take the wheel on congested, complicated city roads but the car will run on its own for highway driving.

These vehicles, possibly widely available by 2025, encourage the owner to live further from work, says Grush. That will lead to more car ownership, more congestion, and increased public demand for more large highways.

That’s not the way to go, as Grush Niles explains on its End of Driving website:

“(T)here is a risk to municipalities and their populations to be overwhelmed by a new wave of private, low-occupancy automobile dominance that collectively detracts from community livability, adds to sprawl, increases infrastructure costs, and degrades the environment.”

HYPE CYCLE

While the move to autonomous vehicles seems inevitable, municipal planners still have some time to experiment with the concept. That is, if technology consultant Gartner is right with its Emerging Technologies Hype Cycle.

Last July Gartner put autonomous vehicles at the very top of its Peak of Inflated Expectations in the Hype Cycle. That was when one expert after another said the technology would end hunger, bring peace, and reunite the Ramones.

emerging-tech-hc (2)The next step in the Hype Cycle is for driverless to enter the Trough of Disillusionment, possibly after an accident or cybersecurity breach that shows its fallibility.

However, the technology will comeback, and go on to reach a Plateau of Productivity when it is working efficiently and is widely accepted.

That’s why planners should begin testing CityMobil2-style vehicles now to work out the bugs, says Grush.

“Municipalities need the experience. This is still a few years away,” says Grush. “The Trough gives us the opportunity.”

Successful Driverless Bus Tests Could Help Pave the Way for Self-Driving Cars

Jennifer van der Kleut

Driverless cars may still be a few years away, but one advancement appears to be paving the way for them—automated buses.

Several companies have reported successful tests of mostly-autonomous buses over the past couple of months, and the progress has industry analysts optimistic for the future of cars.

One of the most promising projects is that of CityMobil2, which has been testing driverless buses, shuttles and “cybercars” in several cities across Europe in the last year, including Rome and Torre Grande in Italy, and La Rochelle in France.

The company is partnering with several other companies such as French-based EasyMile and Robosoft, and the Netherlands’ 2getthere.

CityMobil is simultaneously working on a socio-economic study of the benefits of automated public transit, and launching public awareness campaigns in the areas where it is performing its tests.

One of the most eyebrow-raising tests that has been performed lately is that of China’s Yutong Bus Company, which posted footage of its self-driving bus traveling an impressive 20 miles along a busy Beijing highway with no driver interference.

The trip included passing through 26 traffic lights and even changing lanes with no assistance and no problems, representatives reported. The bus hit a top speed of 68 km per hour.

In Northern California, driverless passenger buses are coming to a Bay Area business park. The EZ10 bus—also manufactured by French company EasyMile, which works with CityMobil—will transport workers around an expansive office park in San Ramon.

The test will hopefully ease Americans into acceptance of autonomous vehicle technology as it travels along pre-set routes at low speeds, representatives say.

Elsewhere in Europe, autonomous buses are coming to Switzerland next year, news outlets are reporting. Swiss startup BestMile plans to test its automated transit system in the French-speaking city of Sion in southern Switzerland.

The company says its proprietary software will allow BestMile employees to remotely operate and monitor a fleet of buses.

The electric buses reportedly hold nine passengers each. The company says public tests will begin in the spring of 2016 and last two years.

Two other countries enthusiastically hopping on the driverless bandwagon are Australia and Greece.

In Greece, CityMobil 2 buses have already begun public tests in the town of Trikala, and are expected to last through February.

In Sydney, Australia, where underground trains are more the norm, the company Alstom has already delivered its first driverless train prototype, and commuters are being allowed to test-ride it at the Showground station in Sydney Metro Northwest. Those who test it will be invited to give feedback before final designs are decided upon.

All of this is music to the ears of those who anxiously await the advent of driverless transportation. If these and other public tests go well, industry professionals hope this will help shift the tide of public opinion of autonomous transportation technology.

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.