This article was written by Richard Harris, Ohmio's Europe Director, for Transportation-as-a-Service Magazine (Issue 1)
Hot transport and mobility topics
There are currently three hot topics in transport and mobility, connected and automated vehicles and driving; mobility as a service and the sharing economy; and air quality.
The emergence of electrically powered automated shuttle buses for city centres, central business districts, campuses, airports, shopping malls, hospitals, etc. promise to harness connected automated vehicles to enable mobility as a service (as they can fulfil the first and last mile requirements) and contribute to improved air quality.
This is why there is increasing interest in identifying the path to full-scale deployment for services based upon these vehicles.
The recent commissioning of even more automated shuttle bus demonstrations around the world illustrates how much interest they are now attracting.
Two companies have been at the forefront of these demonstrations, Navya and EasyMile both manufacture vehicles and both deserve much credit for the way that they are promoting the advantages of these shuttles.
Navya have over 30 vehicles in operation in various demonstrations around the world including Lyon, Doha, Bordeaux, Ann Arbor, Perth, London, Christchurch, Sydney and Melbourne.
Similarly, EasyMile has nearly 60 operational vehicles that have been used in 130 projects, carrying 210,000 passengers, in over 20 countries around the world. EasyMile vehicles can be found in European, North American, Asian and Australian cities including Nice, Darwin, Sohjoa (Finland), San Sabastian, Singapore, Dubai, Lausanne, Taipei, and Tallinn.
“We consider Navya and EasyMile to be the pioneers in self-driving shuttles. They were the first to explore the space and really set the bar for the industry to start. Setting the bar is harder than raising it and they deserve the credit and acknowledgement for being the first.” commented Mohammed Hikmet, founder of HMI.
Immediate impact and increasing expectations
Wherever these vehicles are demonstrated they make an immediate and positive impact. They look futuristic, attract much attention and promote safe, clean and attractive travel. Of course, there are always some eager to report negatively about such innovations. Recent headlines about the Navya vehicle in Las Vegas included:
Self-Driving Bus Crashes on its First Day in Las Vegas (Fortune.com)
Las Vegas' self-driving bus crashes in first hour of service (Daily Mail online)
What the headlines suggest and what really happened are quite different. During the trip, the Navya encountered an articulated delivery truck stopped in the street. The driver was trying to reverse his trailer into an alleyway. The shuttle bus stopped a reasonable distance from the truck and waited for it to move. While the Navya was stationary the reversing tractor unit of the truck very slowly, caught the front of the shuttle causing some minor damage. With a shuttle with a human driver, there would have been the option of reversing to avoid the incident. Clearly without a driver this was not one of the programmed options. The trials are designed to identify this type of situation and to demonstrate the potential for such vehicles. To blame the shuttle or Navya for this situation is disingenuous and about as reasonable as blaming the owner of a legally parked car if another car happens to bump it.
Clearly there is still much to learn about the operation of these vehicles from the policy and regulation perspective which is why such demonstrations are so important as they help inform understanding of the opportunities and challenges of such an innovative mobility advance.
So, is the time now right to change our approach to demonstrating these vehicles? The misreporting of the Las Vegas incident could have a negative impact on the market and could even delay deployment if officials delay regulations that will allow real on-street operations.
Individual pilots and demonstrations
As with the introduction of any new system, requiring regulation and operational changes, trials in various places and under different jurisdictions is the standard approach to foster understanding and prove the capabilities. This is normal as some authorities are keen to lead while others may be constrained by local circumstance or prefer to follow.
Australia and New Zealand leading the way
Australia and New Zealand are hosting trials and demonstrating real determination to become world leaders in shuttle based service deployment.
In February 2017, the Northern Territory (NT) Government of Australia launched an eight-month trial at the main recreational area of Darwin. The Darwin Waterfront is a Precinct by the ocean made up of retail shops, restaurants, beach and lagoons and a cruise terminal.
The EasyMile Autonomous Electric Vehicle links daily Indo Pacific Marine with Stokes Hill Wharf, a recreational area made of restaurants located 1km away from the main attractions of the Waterfront. The NT government is interested in understanding the use of Autonomous Vehicles to better connect areas of interest for the population starting with this last mile connection where regular public transport solutions could not be justified due to the short distance.