Trials and demonstrations of automated shuttle buses continue to flourish.
There are currently three hot topics in transport and mobility, connected and automated vehicles and driving; mobility as a service and the sharing economy; and air quality.
The emergence of electrically powered automated shuttle buses for city centres, central business districts, campuses, airports, shopping malls, hospitals, etc. promise to harness connected automated vehicles to enable mobility as a service (as they can fulfil the first and last mile requirements) and contribute to improved air quality.
This is why there is increasing interest in identifying the path to full-scale deployment for services based upon these vehicles.
The recent commissioning of even more automated shuttle bus demonstrations around the world illustrates how much interest they are now attracting.
Two companies have been at the forefront of these demonstrations, Navya and EasyMile and both deserve much credit for the way that they are promoting the advantages of these vehicles.
EasyMile vehicles can be found in European, North American, Asian and Australian cities including Nice, Darwin, Sohjoa (Finland), San Sabastian, Singapore, Dubai, Lausanne, Taipei, and Tallinn.
Navya have over 30 vehicles in operation in various demonstrations around the world including Lyon, Doha, Bordeaux, Ann Arbor, Perth, London, Christchurch, Sydney and soon Melbourne.
“We consider Navya and EasyMile to be the pioneers in self-driving shuttles. They were the first to explore the space and really set the bar for the industry to start. Setting the bar is harder than raising it and they deserve the credit and acknowledgement for being the first.” commented Mohammed Hikmet, founder of HMI.
Wherever these vehicles are demonstrated they make an immediate and positive impact. They look futuristic, attract positive attention and promote safe, clean and attractive travel. Clearly there is still much to learn about the operation of these vehicles from the policy and regulation perspective which is why such demonstrations are so important as they help inform understanding of the opportunities and challenges of such an innovative mobility advance.
Transport New South Wales reported on the recent Sydney launch.
“The future of automated vehicles has arrived, with Transport Minister Andrew Constance and Roads, Maritime and Freight Minister Melinda Pavey launching the first trial of a driverless shuttle bus in NSW.”
The Government has joined forces with HMI Technologies, NRMA, Telstra, IAG and Sydney Olympic Park Authority, to conduct a two-year trial of the state’s first automated Smart Shuttle at Olympic Park.
“The trial, starting later this month, showcases a small part of our much bigger vision for a technology-enabled transport future,” Mr Constance said. “Today we drive our cars but the reality is, cars will soon drive us and while we are not there yet, we need to be prepared for this change and we need to stay ahead of the game.
“The ultimate goal of the trial is to find the best way to harness the next generation of driverless technology and how to make it work for NSW while also answering questions about how it can improve safety and reliability.
“The first stage of the trial would conduct tests and safety checks in a secure, off-road environment. This testing is underway at Newington Armory where the shuttle will run autonomously on a preprogramed route. We will then extend the trial to public use with the shuttle making the rounds on the roads at Sydney Olympic Park.”
Mrs Pavey said we expect office workers at Sydney Olympic Park to be using the automated shuttle next year, becoming the first to test-ride this new technology before we start seeing it on our roads.
“This trial is not only about automated vehicles, it is also about connectivity,” she said.
“We want to use the trial to help develop the systems that will enable automated vehicles to be connected to our infrastructure, like traffic lights and to our customers through their devices and applications. It’s the combination of connectivity and automation that will provide the safety and mobility benefits we are looking for.
“There is still some way to go before automated shuttles become common place on Australian roads, but as a Government we are ready to take the next step and from here all sorts of possibilities open up for transport in NSW.”
Legislation to allow to trial to go ahead has been introduced into Parliament.
HMI Technologies are running (with partners) demonstrations in New Zealand and Australia with the vehicles in Christchurch, Sydney and later this year at La Trobe University in Melbourne.
Entirely separate from the local demonstration coordination teams/trials the HMI research and development group in Auckland has been developing their own technology approach to automated vehicles.
In July 2016, the company identified that the rapid advancement of sensors, cameras, data analytics and wireless communications created a convergence with the transformative technology of autonomous vehicles.
HMI decided to create its own automated vehicle using in-house technology development aimed at the last mile automated vehicle market. Two independent competing in-house research and development teams worked on both hardware and software approaches to achieve the project.
In May 2017, the two approaches were evaluated and the best of each combined to form our technology platform for automated buses.
To demonstrate these capabilities, HMI developed the ohmio range of vehicles and launched these in a technology (rather than product) launch in Christchurch, New Zealand in September.
The ohmio automated driverless vehicles can platoon (intelligent convoying) and interact with traffic signals and roadside infrastructure.
The vehicles use HMI’s existing propriety sign controller technology, that HMI already manufacture, effectively connecting the vehicles to traffic control and management infrastructure devices.
The vehicles demonstrated at a recent launch can use virtual routes from a central control centre via road side units, which enables the local authorities to regain control of their road network.
The ohmio vehicles are enabled by HMI technology which is at the forefront of international intelligent transport systems development and deployment.
“Being in New Zealand offers us a formidable advantage,” explained Mohammed Hikmet. “The testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles elsewhere is slowed down by legislation or requires special permits. Here in New Zealand, the government already allows for testing of driverless vehicles. That gives ohmio an advantage as we scale up and develop our technology, especially as we understand regulations here and in Australia.”
Connected automated vehicles like ohmio will deliver real service benefits, become a key element of Mobility as a Service, which promises to break down the transport silos that currently exist and provide users with safe and seamless travel and help address the air quality issues in our cities. ◆