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.
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.
About the five field labs for autonomous transport
Road, air, rail, water and pipe (‘hyperloop’): in the Northern Netherlands, all modalities will have their own field lab for autonomous transport. As a result, the region will become the first real hub for autonomous transport in Europe. Autonomous transport should, among other things, improve the accessibility and quality of life in both urban and rural areas and reduce emissions as well as fuel consumption.
The aim of the field labs is to work towards both certification and the broad use of autonomous transport in daily practice through testing and upscaling. In addition, training and research are also linked to the field labs in order to sustainably safeguard and pass on knowledge and to develop sufficient talent.
The field labs are practice-oriented test locations, where various parties (governments, companies and knowledge institutions) develop, exchange knowledge and test together. Field labs will in any case be established at the new Hive Mobility Center on the Zernike Campus in Groningen (road, air and general affairs), at Groningen Airport Eelde (air), the Eemshaven (water) and the rail route between Buitenpost and De Vork train yard (track). Later, the European Hyperloop Center near Meerstad (tube) will be added as a field lab. There is also exchange between the field labs and the modalities can also test and develop in each other’s field lab. For example, people have already driven on the airstrip of the airport and flew with drones at Zernike and in the Eemshaven.
The use of an NPG subsidy has helped to make these various field labs possible.