So far, research on autonomous driving in Public Transport has been focusing on mini-buses, carrying 10 to 12 passengers. These vehicles will be perfect for serving on-demand first-/last-mile transportation, or short “on-campus-like” corridors. However, as larger buses will still play the dominant role in the mass transit environment of urban transport, the Swedish vehicle manufacturer, Scania, together with INIT partnered to research the operation of mass transit with autonomously driving buses.
Economic factors dominate the call for autonomous driving in PT. As drivers make up for a large part of the total cost of operation and are ever more difficult to recruit, Public Transport providers are keen to benefit from autonomous driving. The social impact can be kept small by a switch to useful jobs related to service and maintenance.
Already the use case of autonomous operation within depots represents a significant cost saving. Here, the capability of vehicles to move autonomously between parking slots, maintenance and fueling stations reduces the need for time spent by human operators with appropriate driver’s licenses. Due to the simplified operating environment, this is the most viable commercial application of autonomous vehicles in public transportation in the near future. But at the very end, autonomous vehicles will most likely be a natural part of the modal mix. That is why one of the first research projects worldwide was started studying the requirements of fixedroute buses driving autonomously within a public transport environment – iQMobility.
iQMobility is a Swedish funded project led by Scania, the Swedish vehicle manufacture, which belongs to the Volkswagen Group. It deals with the specific requirements of public transport when it comes to autonomously operated fleets. The aim is to identify what information needs to be exchanged between which components and systems, as well as their technical specifications. Not only do the “driving skills” of autonomously operating buses need to be developed, but they also have to be integrated into a fleet management system, as well as other public transport managing systems, to serve the needs of public transport providers. After a long scouting process, Scania chose INIT, the worldwide leading provider of integrated ITS solutions, as its partner for the integration of autonomous buses in existing public transport networks.
Anders Ställberg of Scania explains: “At Scania we are developing autonomous transport systems where we put the autonomous vehicles in a context. The vehicles themselves will not be the solution; the way they are used and how they are integrated in the overall transport system is what will make the difference. In order to learn and understand the challenges involved when introducing autonomous vehicles in public transport, we needed a strong partner, which we found with the multimodal transport planning and control system provider, INIT. Within public transport we need to understand how our cloud based intelligent control environment, together with our vehicles, can integrate with a current public transport control system such as INIT’s, to be able to jointly meet the requirements of our customers.“
The primary expected result of this project will be the development of a prototype automated urban public transport system. There are three areas of main interest – planning, operation, and depot management – which results in examining questions like: What specifically needed information have to be incorporated in public transport planning systems? How can schedules and real-time ITCS orders be translated into driving instructions the bus control system is able to understand? How do depot management systems need to be enhanced or connected to planning and ITCS systems to support autonomous driving?