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Autonomous shuttles run for the first time
PostBus, Navya and BestMile have presented two autonomous shuttles to the media in Sion. If the authorities issue the special permits required, the vehicles are expected to be in action and transporting passengers in Sion from spring 2016.
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Since the announcement at the beginning of November, there has been growing interest in the autonomous shuttles. On Thursday 17 December 2015, PostBus, the city of Sion and the canton of Valais invited the media to the very first presentation of the two vehicles held jointly with the French autonomous vehicle manufacturer Navya and the Swiss fleet management software developer BestMile. The two 4.8 m long electric shuttles were on view at the Place de la Planta, right in the heart of the city. Sion was selected as the test site because this is the base of the Sion-Valais Mobility Lab, where the pilot project is being conducted.
A few days before, the experts had electronically measured the Place de la Planta using the vehicles and created the 3D maps. With the electronic data obtained, the shuttles chose their route and avoided obstacles in their way. Thanks to sensors, the vehicles are guided to the centimetre when moving through the streets, and they recognize people, objects and signposting on the road. The electricity for the two electric vehicles comes from renewable energy.
The representatives from PostBus, Navya and BestMile at the event were confident that the two-year test phase will provide valuable insights into how the autonomous vehicles can be used in public transport. In his welcome speech Daniel Landolf, CEO of PostBus Switzerland Ltd said, “We want to learn from the new technology and its possibilities to develop new mobility solutions for the entire public transport sector. Marcel Maurer, Mayor of the city of Sion, was very pleased that his city is playing host to this exciting pilot project. Jacques Melly, President of the canton of Valais added: “Mobility is key for Valais, both in the mountains and in urban areas. This innovative project is helping promote the development of urban transport and is an indispensable element in building up a combined transport network.”
A Swiss premiere
The two shuttles are expected to be able to transport people in the center of Sion by spring 2016. Routes in the pedestrian zone and shared space in the center of the cantonal capital of Valais and to the Valère and Tourbillon castles are planned. This depends on approval being granted by the authorities before then. The test phase itself represents a landmark: For the first time in Switzerland, autonomous vehicles will be publicly operational and used to transport passengers. In an initial phase, specialists are currently testing the two vehicles in an enclosed space near the city.
Opening up new areas
PostBus, the city of Sion and the canton of Valais – together with their partners – are looking to test new forms of mobility. The issue of how autonomous shuttles can be used in pedestrian zones, car-free areas and company premises, for example, is of particular interest. As a provider of integrated mobility solutions, PostBus Switzerland Ltd wants to carry out tests to find out whether and how these intelligent vehicles can provide new types of mobility in regions that cannot currently be serviced by public transport. However, the objective is not to replace buses on existing routes with autonomous vehicles, but to diversify the modes of transport in order to meet as many passenger mobility needs as possible.