Buses without a driver that independently drive a route and allow people to get on and off. This still sounds very futuristic to many. Nevertheless, a lot of testing is already being done in the north of the Netherlands to find out whether this can become a reality in the short term. In a podcast by BNR Nieuwsradio, Jorrit Kuipers, CTO of robotTUNER, and Michel van der Mark, director of market development at Qbuzz, provide an insight into the potential, developments and challenges of autonomous driving in public transport and the unique tests that are taking place in the north of the Netherlands.
Autonomous Transport Lab
Reporter Karlijn Meinders from BNR Nieuwsradio visited the Zernike Campus in Groningen at the Autonomous Transport lab at the Hive.Mobility office. On behalf of and in collaboration with the province of Groningen, robotTUNER is working on the development of autonomous transport on the road. There has been a lot of experimentation with self-driving transport for years, but Jorrit Kuipers has been asked what makes the tests on the Zernike Campus so special. “We are now looking into whether it is possible to drive at higher speeds without an operator in the vehicle“, answers Jorrit Kuipers. “Until now, beautiful vehicles have been developed, but they did not drive fast and someone always had to be in them to see if it was safe. Ultimately, it should become cheaper to drive in this way. That step has not yet been taken. We are now looking at whether this is feasible in the future.“
Potential of autonomous driving in public transport
RobotTUNER is looking very pragmatically where the need lies and that is public transport. Autonomous driving will then offer added value in particular on less complex routes outside a city center where the automated driver can take over the driving of the bus from the bus driver. Jorrit indicates that electric buses can be controlled relatively easily with software, which makes the combination of a human driver and autopilot control possible.
In order to make it profitable, people want to be able to drive up to 80 km/h in the future. To see if this can be done safely, testing is currently being done with a small car: the Renault Twizy. In this article we informed about a test day with the Renault Twizy that has already taken place on an old runway of Groningen Airport Eelde.
“We have an ambitious goal to really be able to offer autonomous driving in public transport by 2025. This is being tackled in phases“, says Jorrit Kuipers.
Software and drivers
Michel van de Mark of Qbuzz is enthusiastic about the potential of autonomous driving in public transport and the knowledge gained through these tests. “One of the most complex things is taking over the work of a driver. We don’t see that happening in the short term, but we do see it happening that we can absorb that knowledge. A driver on the road sees and feels a lot. For us it is very interesting to know whether this can be accommodated in systems and whether it can be applied to buses in the future.“
For Qbuzz, autonomous transport is one of the possible solutions for the future of public transport. The best routes are still being looked into, with the countryside as obvious choice. It is becoming increasingly difficult to provide small villages with cost-effective public transport, but separate bus lanes in busier areas are also being considered.
Reanne Boersma, researcher at CROW, has been researching various practical tests with automated vehicles for a long time now to see what we can learn from this with the aim of progression in this area. In the podcast, Reanne Boersma explains where the biggest challenges lie for these optimistic future scenarios.
Curious about these challenges? Curious how the computer software learns from the bus driver? Want to hear more about the various technical challenges, such as object classification, and the experiences of the BNR reporter during a test drive in the Renault Twizy? Listen to the entire podcast of BNR Nieuwsradio here.
This project has been made possible thanks to a contribution from the EU project ART-Forum (Interreg).