15 electric driverless buses will be programmed to run 24 hours a day in the Swiss city of Geneva in 2025. Image: REUTERS/Ints Kalnins
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- A project to test a new autonomous bus service in three European cities is underway.
- 15 electric driverless minibuses will be programmed to run 24 hours a day in the Swiss city of Geneva in 2025.
- Yet the wider adoption of autonomous transportation has stalled, mainly due to safety concerns.
Despite the hurdles still hindering the development of truly autonomous vehicles, the technology has advanced in many ways.
In Europe, for example, a new consortium is developing an automated electric minibus service called the Horizon Europe ULTIMO project.
Driverless buses in 3 European cities
The project has a budget of almost $60 million over the course of four years and in 2025, 45 driverless electric minibuses will be programmed to run for a year in three European cities: Geneva, Switzerland; Kronach, Germany; and Oslo, Norway.
This pilot follows on from the University of Geneva's AVENUE project (Autonomous Vehicles to Evolve to a New Urban Experience), which ran between 2018 and 2022 and was conducted at eight test sites in Europe.
‘‘The aim of AVENUE was to study the technical and economic feasibility of an automated on-demand transport service as well as the potential psychological obstacles to its use,” explained Dimitri Konstantas, technical director of ULTIMO. “ULTIMO’s goal will be to develop a real business model that addresses the concrete economic, legal and security issues of such a service.’’
On-demand public transport
The first stage of the pilot will look to answer questions like how much tickets should cost, what the minimum and maximum distances should be, and how to adapt the legal framework, which currently does not allow automated buses to travel at more than 30km/h.
Konstantis describes the introduction of autonomous public transport as a paradigm shift for public transportation. ‘‘By offering door-to-door, on-demand, 24-hour transport, the service would be of higher quality,” he said. “It would also avoid empty trips during off-peak hours and thus reduce some costs. Finally, by responding to demand in real time, queuing and congestion around stations could be avoided.”
Safety is, of course, a paramount concern. The ULTIMO project will focus on the issue of “how to ensure the safety of passengers and react, for example, in the event of accidents”.
This is essential to the project’s success because, as Forbes pointed out in 2022, “the world’s biggest auto manufacturers have poured billions of dollars into trying to perfect the technology [but] despite impressive results, autonomous driving technology still can’t be relied on to handle really complex situations.”
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