Driverless cars are said to have a great future. What is particularly promising in this respect is when such autonomous vehicles are integrated in an existing public urban transport network – this integration might well prove to be the solution to today’s increasing urban traffic problems across the world. Trapeze is right at the forefront of this development.
If there is one buzzword today, it is “Driverless Vehicles”. Well-known examples include, for instance, the egg-shaped driverless cars of Google, which have been tested on roads and streets in the United States for some years now. In addition to Google, other IT technology companies are working on autonomous vehicles, too. And with some delay, also all major carmakers have started equipping their conventional vehicles with an increasing number of assistance functions relieving drivers of part of their driving work or their thinking and concentration.
Quite obviously, the time has come for vehicles that can move safely in road traffic without human control. There are various reasons for this.
On the one hand, the technology available even today or at the very latest in the near future has matured to the point that computer programs can take over control of road vehicles. Vehicles thus controlled behave “rationally”: Unlike human drivers, computers are not distracted, react faster, do not become tired, observe distances to cars ahead of them with greater reliability and can – providing they are networked with one another and with higher-ranking control centres – respond more appropriately and quickly to changed situations. This, so it is hoped, may reduce congestions and accidents or prevent them altogether.
On the other hand, the available road space is becoming increasingly tight, since it is being filled by more and more vehicles and cannot be increased at will. The consequences are, among other things, longer trips, congestions or long searches for parking spaces.
The dream of the freedom of driving a car is fading. Private cars are losing their lustre as a status symbol. Many young people prefer devices such as Smartphones to owning cars. Car ownership is being increasingly displaced by the desire for mobility as such easy, fast, reliable transport from one place to another, regardless of the specific means used. This development is being promoted by the spread of the Sharing Economy: You do not have to privately own a car or other goods, but can share them with others.
These developments are opening up new opportunities for public passenger transport as a system for moving people. Not only private four-seaters can move around without a driver, but also small and large buses. Tests involving driverless taxis are being conducted in various cities in a large number of countries. In Sion in the Swiss Canton of Valais, Postauto AG – an affiliate of Swiss Post – is the first company in the world to test multi-seat driverless vehicles for public urban transport duties in regular service and on public streets and roads.
The two electrically powered buses with eleven seats each, manufactured by the French company Navya, circulate through the inner city at maximum 20 kilometres per hour. They are driverless – and do not have the usual controls such as a steering wheel or brake and accelerator pedals. Only an emergency stop button is available, allowing passengers to stop the vehicle at any time. For safety reasons, a specially instructed person is also always still on board during pilot operation. The aim of Postauto AG is to test new approaches to public passenger transport, for example flexible schedules, demand response bus services or home-to-home transport.
Trapeze has identified these opportunities and has not hesitated to seize them: At the end of 2016, this leading provider of public transport software entered a partnership with BestMile, a developer of software for controlling driverless vehicles.
BestMile has emerged as a start-up from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology EPFL in Lausanne. The company has developed an algorithm that is capable of controlling swarms of autonomous vehicles at a time, calculating the optimal route for each of them and adjusting their driving modes. The software is open for integration with a wide range of public transport vehicle types and control systems.
With this co-operation, Trapeze is enabling the operation and control of a wide diversity of driverless vehicles on the basis of its proprietary LIO control system. It allows driverless vehicles and thus also new, customer-friendly and customised transport services to be integrated in existing public transport systems and fleets and to be controlled out of a centralised location. Thus, Trapeze has launched the world’s first solution for controlling hybrid fleets of vehicles with or without drivers in the field of public transport.
The co-existence of driverless and driver-controlled vehicles and their smart integration are key to further developments – up to the point of smart public transport systems, which offer revolutionary services that are much more customer-friendly than the ones we know today.