All projects
Autonomous transport

Autonomous transport on the road

Autonomous driving vehicles can ensure the accessibility and quality of life of smaller places via connections between villages and travel hubs. In addition, autonomous transport can also contribute to road safety, the inclusiveness of public mobility and the reduction of emissions.

Autome shuttle van Navya bij Ommelander Ziekenhuis Groningen.

For these reasons, the Province of Groningen and its partners are collecting the necessary experience and insights through a field lab for autonomous transport on the road in order to accelerate development. Points of attention include the reliability of the technology and the interaction with other road users. As soon as the safety has been proven and the technology has been developed far enough on the test track in the field lab, testing can be done at higher speeds and complexity than has been done until now. Subsidy options are also being investigated and training and research are linked to the field labs in order to safeguard and pass on the knowledge in a sustainable way.

Autonomous public transport

One of the projects focuses on the possibilities of autonomous, public bus transport. The ultimate goal here is to travel from village centers to hubs with autonomous vehicles. To achieve this goal, pilots are being conducted with, for example, autonomous processes in bus depots, in order to subsequently be able to take steps towards testing on bus lanes.

In order to be able to take the step from exemptions to the wider use of autonomous transport, the certification and technology of autonomous vehicles is important, among other things. One is not allowed to transport goods or people in public places without a certificate of competence. This is taken care of for humans, but not for auto-pilot software. For example, partner robotTUNER uses the performance of drivers in the execution of procedures as a standard for the performance of auto-pilot software for public transport buses.

Safety and speed

Improved object classification is another major technical hurdle to overcome. The vehicle must connect features to objects better and faster than now, so that the vehicle knows how to react faster. Subsequently, the speed of the vehicle can also increase further.

Autonomous vehicles often still have a driver or steward on board. In the near future, it should be possible to remotely track autonomous vehicles on the road and take over control in the event of problems. Only then can the potential of autonomous (public) transport be fully utilized. Importantly, this is not system dependent. A remote operator must be able to monitor and control systems from different suppliers. That is why the province of Groningen is exploring the possibility of working with an open source system.

From pilots to scaling up

By conducting tests with different types of vehicles, different parties gain as much experience as possible with autonomous transport on the road and it is possible to accelerate development.

Autonomous shuttle at Ommelander Hospital

From 2018 to 2020, the Ommelander Hospital in Scheemda tested a self-driving shuttle between the main entrance and the nearest bus stop. The shuttle transported patients, visitors and staff to and from the hospital. The route was about 1.5 km long. With this trial, the Northern Netherlands was a national leader when it comes to developing autonomous transport on the road. For the province of Groningen, this was the first trial with an autonomous shuttle with passengers. Previously, tests were carried out without passengers with an unmanned vehicle in the Eemshaven, on the Zernike Campus in Groningen and in Loppersum.
For the test with the autonomous shuttle on the road, the province of Groningen, the Ommelander Hospital, transport company Arriva, the RDW and supplier Navya worked together.

Autonomous bus depot

In 2021, public transporter Qbuzz and robotTUNER set up an Autonomous Transport Field Lab at the bus depot on Peizerweg in Groningen. The aim of this Field Lab is to investigate whether it is possible to equip public transport buses with autopilot technology so that they can load, wash and maneuver autonomously at the depot. The autopilot hardware is developed by robotTUNER in the CAVIDOR project on behalf of the Rotterdam The Hague Metropolitan Region -MRDH-. The development of the autopilot software has started on behalf of the province of Groningen. In 2022, the autopilot was installed on a taxi van and the first autonomous meters were be driven. The autopilot will be extensively tested and further developed in 2023. In the summer of 2024, the first Qbuzz bus will drive autonomously at the bus depot and an experiment will be held on the bus lane, for which progress will be periodically discussed with the RDW. RDW is responsible for the exemption from the experiment on the bus lane. If it is demonstrated that the autopilot can drive safely on parts of bus lines, it may be a solution to reduce capacity problems in public transport.
The Fieldlab Autonomous Bus depot is part of the national project COLUMBUSS -CONnected Level5 UnManned BUSeS-. The initiators are the province of Groningen, MRDH and robotTUNER. Carriers Qbuzz and RET are partners.

About the five field labs for autonomous transport

Road, air, rail, water and tube (‘hyperloop’): in the Northern Netherlands, all modalities will have their own field lab for autonomous transport. The region will therefore become the first real hub for autonomous transport in Europe. Autonomous transport must, among other things, ensure better accessibility and quality of life in both urban and rural areas and reduce emissions and fuel consumption.

The aim of the field labs is to work towards both certification and broad use of autonomous transport in daily practice through testing and scaling up. Training and research are also linked to the field labs to sustainably safeguard and pass on knowledge and to develop sufficient talent.

The field labs are practice-oriented test locations, where different parties (governments, companies and knowledge institutions) develop, exchange knowledge and test together. In any case, there will be field labs at the new Hive Mobility Center on the Zernike Campus in Groningen (road, air and general matters), at Groningen Airport Eelde (air), the Eemshaven (water) and the rail route between Buitenpost and the De Vork stabling area (track). The European Hyperloop Center (tube) will later be added as a field lab. There is also exchange between the field labs and the modalities can also be tested and developed in each other’s field lab. For example, we have already driven on the airport airstrip and flown with drones at Zernike and Eemshaven.

The use of an NPG subsidy has made these various field labs possible.