After 1.5 years of developing autonomous shuttle solutions, the FABULOS project now brings robot buses to the streets of Europe. From this spring onwards, three robot bus prototypes will be evaluated in real-life conditions in five European cities. All the shuttle solutions offer an all-inclusive service for autonomous last-mile transport, while testing their unique features and adapting to the geographical challenges.
During the field-testing phase of the FABULOS pre-commercial procurement, selected robot bus prototypes are tested as small fleets of shuttles in Estonia, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands and Norway. Each of the three suppliers chosen for this phase receives up to 1 million euros to prepare pilots and implement operational systems to validate their prototypes. The three supplier consortia, composed of several companies representing 5 nationalities, are Sensible4-Shotl (Finnish–Spanish), Saga (Norwegian–Canadian) and Mobile Civitatem (Estonian).
Ambitious goals for piloting
Though FABULOS is not a vehicle procurement project, it takes a systematic approach. Therefore, the focus is on a turnkey solution that can manage automated robot bus fleets as part of cities’ public transportation systems. For cities, this means more attractive, cost-efficient and sustainable transport solutions. Citizens, in turn, get more tailored urban mobility alternatives, enabling seamless transfer across the public transportation network.
“Helsinki aims to be the most functional city in the world. Innovation to support the best urban life conditions possible is in the core of our strategy. As such, the promotion of sustainable modes of transport is considered as a high priority. We aim for a pleasant environment, good accessibility and fluent transport as well as the reduction of environmental impacts. In my opinion, the FABULOS project can greatly contribute to achieving this goal by demonstrating the benefits of autonomous public transportation,” states Mayor of Helsinki, Jan Vapaavuori.
The piloting of the self-driving shuttles has already started in Helsinki, Finland. Pilots in Gjesdal (Norway) and Tallinn (Estonia) will follow in June 2020, but there might be some delays due to the COVID-19 restrictions. During the autumn of 2020, pilots will be launched in Lamia (Greece), Helmond (the Netherlands) and again in Gjesdal. Each of the suppliers will pilot their robot bus solutions in two cities.
As part of each 50-day field trial period, the functionality, interoperability and security of the autonomous fleets will be assessed. After each of the pilots, representatives of the six FABULOS procuring partners will carry out an evaluation process. A pre-commercial procurement does not have one “winner”: all robot bus prototypes are expected to be commercialised and can be part of a follow-up procurement.
Robot buses hit the streets of five European cities
The first pilot was launched on 14 April 2020 in Helsinki. The fleet of three autonomous vehicles, including the GACHA robot bus, drives along a circular route starting from the busy Pasila Railway Station, riding partly on a separate lane, with speeds of up to 40 km/h. The majority of the route is in mixed traffic and includes several crossroads with traffic lights, right turns, street-side parking and a roundabout. There are three bus stops on the route and on-demand rides are available via a mobile app.
Technologically, the shuttle buses do not need a driver or steward on board since they can operate fully autonomously. For the first time in Europe, the fleets are monitored from a newly established Remote Control Centre. In case of exceptional situations, a remote operator can give permission to pass an object, such as a car blocking the road, or take over the control of the vehicles.
The overall aim of the FABULOS pre-commercial procurement is to accelerate the introduction of new types of automated last-mile solutions entering the European market. Therefore, when the pilots are finalised, the procuring cities and any third-party procurers will consider initiating a public follow-up procurement in 2021 based on the insights gained from the FABULOS project.
Forum Virium Helsinki
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FABULOS (Future Automated Bus Urban Level Operation System) is a research and development project that seeks to establish and deliver a systemic proof-of-concept for automated last-mile public transport as part of the existing transport system of urban areas, based on the use of self-driving minibuses. The FABULOS project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and will run from 1 January 2018 until 31st March 2021. The FABULOS project has partners in Estonia, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal.
Photo: Ruska Tapiovaara, Forum Virium Helsinki