Autonomous vehicles are the words on everyone's lips. In the field of public transport in town and country, a networked mobility mix will soon lead to more pleasant and more efficient road traffic. First Sensor is working with partner companies on launching driverless buses and trains fitted with optical sensors on road and rail.
Not only can autonomous public transport improve connections in the countryside, they can also ensure fewer accidents, more reliability and service on those last few meters up to the destination in an urban environment. At present, illness-related absence, understaffing and similar problems are causing more and more delays in public transport. For example, around 22.5 % of Deutsche Bahn's long-distance journeys were delayed in the first half of 2018. Cities also have similar problems: in Berlin, one in eight buses arrived either too late or not at all in 2015. Lack of personnel and widespread illness are the main causes of issues. At the same time, a large number of traffic accidents are due to drivers’ mistakes.There is a remedy in the form of driverless taxis, buses and trains; autonomous driving in public transport is currently being tested with them. The goal: to gradually complement the existing means of transport with fully autonomous aids. Test vehicles generally cover the same routes so that requirements are known and, initially, routes with a low volume of traffic and pedestrians can be tested. For example, the first commercial line with driverless taxis has been launched on a 5.3-kilometer route in the Japanese capital, Tokyo. Even though such test areas also exist in other cities, the Japanese service is the first in which passengers have to open their wallets to avail of this service.
Autonomous small buses are already a familiar sight on the roads in many countries. In Norway, for example, a shuttle bus has been transporting a maximum of twelve passengers through Stavanger at a maximum speed of 25 km/h since mid-2018. And in Germany, a bus fitted with LiDAR and a networked camera system has been in use on the premises of Berliner Charité since March 2018. This bus was manufactured by the French manufacturer Navya on behalf of the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG). On the 270,000 m2 hospital grounds featuring sidewalks, intersections, passengers and other vehicles, urban traffic can be simulated perfectly. The buses have capacity for six to eleven passengers and move at the relatively sedate speed of 12 km/h.What is happening on the road is soon to become possible on railways in France as well. From 2023 onwards, a state-owned rail operator is planning to launch autonomous trains and wants to upgrade regional trains. Fully commercial usage is planned from 2025 onwards. However, since all autonomous trains, taxis and buses are still in the test phase, the journeys in France and other countries will initially only be undertaken by trained personnel.
The interaction of technologies such as radar, camera systems and LiDAR is necessary in order to make autonomous vehicles a feature of future traffic. First Sensor is currently providing different companies with samples of its new generation of avalanche photodiodes for LiDAR systems. These detect invisible light signals with which the scanners capture their environment. But in order to make the leap into regular traffic, such systems do not have to be further developed for the mass market; instead, the entire traffic network must be digitalized. In road traffic, this means smart traffic light systems that report an increased traffic volume and regulate traffic. And without a digital rail network that monitors the state of the train tracks with fiber-optic sensors and reports malfunctions in real time, autonomous trains will not make the transition from test operation to everyday operation in the years to come either.
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