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© Pierre Salomé - "Aishuu"/Navya
© Pierre Salomé - "Aishuu"/Navya

Autonomous traffic is a topic for tomorrow or the day after? Far from it! Driverless buses are already being used in many locations — mostly still in their pilot phase, admittedly. But there are growing signs that self-steering vehicles will soon be part of everyday life and a firm part of the mobility plans of towns and boroughs.

For example, electric buses from the French company Navya are already being tested in several European cities —in Switzerland, Austria and Berlin. From 2018, they are to be used in a pilot project on the site of Charité. The four small buses are allowed to reach speeds of 20 kilometres an hour on three routes over the campus and hospital grounds.

Familiar territory

Deutsche Bahn recently presented an on-demand project on autonomous driving under the new brand of “ioki”. The test operation started in Bad Birnbach in Bavaria in October. Deutsche Bahn would like to use this project to cement its position as a service provider for boroughs and transport services. Anyone who downloads the corresponding app and uses it to lodge their trip, can hop on board. According to Deutsche Bahn, the project is particularly attractive for rural areas in which many people are dependent on having their own car due to a lack of local public transport. “It is much more economical for Deutsche Bahn to use vehicles like these than a train with three carriages which carries four passengers”, states Christian Hochfeld, Head of the think tank Agora Verkehrswende.

 

© Deutsche Bahn AG / Uwe Miethe
© Deutsche Bahn AG / Uwe Miethe

“City buses are the ideal learning platform”, says Eric Sax, Institute Manager at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) who took part in the Mercedes City Pilot as a developer while studying computer science. The Future Bus developed by the company from Stuttgart (Mercedes) and fitted with the KIT system, was tested last year in the Netherlands — not before it had driven the route multiple times before starting the test operation to ensure it was well-armed to face any adverse conditions caused by the weather or pure chance. “We are a long way from being able to drive autonomously in an area which the system does not know”, Sax emphasises. One advantage for automated city buses by comparison with a car, for example, that travels on motorways, is the predictability of the environment, he explains. A city bus knows its route.