Autonomous buses are not proving their worth in Vienna

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The state of the art in self-driving shuttles is not sufficient for everyday use. This is the conclusion drawn by Wiener Linien, the largest public transport operator in Austria’s capital, after three years of testing: “The project has shown that the road to autonomous driving in local passenger transport is still a long one.” On Wednesday, the autonomous buses from NAVYA rolled through the young Seestadt district north of the Danube for the last time.

The two shuttle buses have been in operation since April 2018, initially in a garage and on a university campus, and then from June 2019 in public passenger test operations in Seestadt. Over 12,000 kilometers were driven at a maximum of 20 km / h and more than 8,000 passengers were carried. Without the coronavirus pandemic, even more people would certainly be on the ride, even if autonomous driving can lead to nausea.

Wiener Linien call it “mixed” the result diplomatic: “Both in summer and in winter there are still weather-related problems. Strong winds as well as light snowfall, heavy rain or fog mean that the electric buses have to be controlled manually the market still has to cope with numerous tasks. ” The project webpage has already been removed, a follow-up project is not planned.

The Seestadt would be ideally suited for the slowly autonomous buses. Urban planners have deliberately left a lot of space and at the same time given cars little space. “The Seestadt use case was a perfect environment for NAVYA to test the autonomous buses,” said NAVYA Sales Manager Jean-Michel Boëz Cars is deliberately reduced. “

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However, a young district means that things are constantly changing. Therefore, NAVYA had to constantly re-record the route traveled and even try to anticipate new conditions. “The environment itself was a challenge, as it was constantly changing due to construction work and so on, prompting our team to continuously adapt the route and predict future work in order to ensure the smoothest possible operation,” explained Boëz.

The extent of the problem was already evident during the first autonomous test drives in April 2018: the route was mapped in March when it was still cold in Vienna. Two weeks later it was warm and the buses always stopped automatically in the same place. It took some searching to find the “obstacle”: daisies had grown out of a crack in the pavement. That disrupted the artificial intelligence of the autonomous vehicle.

People are difficult too: “The project itself was a challenge as it was one of the longest routes NAVYA has ever mapped and there were many stops and movements around the shuttle buses,” explained Boëz. Vienna is known for the short distances between stops, so there are relatively many stations per kilometer of the route.

However, the field trial was not in vain. The numerous project participants learned a lot about autonomous driving. The partners include the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT). “As part of the scientific management of the project, we worked on the optimal integration of the automated bus into the overall traffic system. This includes, on the one hand, improving the environment recognition and object classification with the help of machine learning,” stated AIT energy researcher Wolfgang Hribernik. For example, the “communication of the bus with the infrastructure, but also with passengers and road users, as well as simulation tools for the efficient planning of stops and fleet concepts” must be improved.

“As soon as the technology makes noticeable progress, we will look for vehicles again,” promises Günter Steinbauer, Managing Director of Wiener Linien, “because the overall impression that both the passengers shared with us and that we received after three years shows that this will be the future. Only when this future begins is not yet certain! “


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