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First test-runs of autonomous shuttles in Switzerland

Acting on behalf of Swiss Post, PostBus Switzerland Ltd plans to work together with other partners such as the city of Sion, the canton of Valais and the ETH Lausanne to test two autonomous vehicles in Sion over two years. This is the first time that a transport company in Switzerland will use this type of technology in public areas to transport passengers. As a provider of integrated mobility solutions, PostBus wants to carry out tests to find out whether or not these intelligent vehicles can provide new types of mobility in regions that cannot currently be serviced by public transport.

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PostBus and the city of Sion plan to perform tests with two autonomous shuttles within the scope of the mobility lab (Mobility Lab Sion-Valais). The two vehicles developed by Navya, a company based in France, run on electricity alone. If the tests are approved by the relevant authorities, the two shuttles will be able to transport up to nine people at a maximum of 20 km/h through the streets of the capital of Valais. There will always be specially trained personnel on board, but the vehicles run fully automatically and do not have a steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal. However, there is an emergency button to stop the vehicle if need be. Thanks to state-of-the-art sensors, the vehicles are guided to the centimetre when moving through the streets, and they recognize any obstacles and signalling on the road during the day and at night. A programme created by the Swiss start-up BestMile monitors and controls the two autonomous vehicles.

Initial test phase without passengers

The 4.80 m long and 2.05 m wide shuttle vehicles will be brought into service in two phases. In the initial phase from December 2015 until around spring 2016, specialists will test the vehicles in a cordoned-off private area. If the relevant authorities approve the pilot project, the second phase will involve operating the autonomous shuttles in public areas and transporting people. Areas encompassing the pedestrian zone and shared space in Sion’s old town and the city’s tourist centre, as well as the area leading to the Tourbillon and Valère castles have been designated for the tests (see map). If the tests in these areas are successful, vehicles may also be introduced on other routes in the city of Sion.

Special permit required

The statutory regulations for the use of autonomous vehicles on public roads have not yet been finalized. As a result, a special permit is required from the authorities so that the pilot project can be implemented in the city of Sion. PostBus is collaborating closely on this pilot project with the vehicle manufacturer and the relevant authorities at federal, cantonal and municipal level. All the companies and institutions involved in the test phase are fully focused on passenger safety. Therefore, the authorities are still debating whether or not to grant approval.

Fleet management programmes with ever increasing efficiency

While this unique pilot project is being implemented in Sion, the ETH Lausanne will be working on integrating a fleet of autonomous shuttles into the local public transport system in order to create, for instance, a demand-based service. The key requirement is that the shuttles should be operated in real time and take into account the various passenger needs: flexible timetables, on-demand routes, door-to-door services, etc. Once the necessary algorithms have been developed, they can be used to improve BestMile’s fleet management programme. Generally speaking, the algorithms will also help to find solutions for logistics and for public transport management. The pilot project implemented in public areas in Sion can also be used to develop the ETH Lausanne’s algorithms.

Testing the use of autonomous shuttles in public areas

PostBus and the city of Sion plan to collaborate with their partners to find out whether the use of autonomous shuttles in public areas gives customers added value. Whether or not it is possible to use the autonomous shuttles in public areas, e.g. in pedestrian and car-free zones, or on company premises is being specifically called into question. The transport company and the capital of Valais also want to gain experience in working with new personal mobility types and make it possible to connect places that were not previously serviced by public transport. However, the objective is not to replace buses on existing routes with autonomous vehicles, but rather to diversify the modes of transport in order to cover as many passenger mobility needs as possible.

Shaping the mobility of the future

In its role as the leading bus company providing public passenger transport in Switzerland, PostBus is continuously developing into a mobility and technology service provider. With this in mind, PostBus plans to responsibly test and use state-of-the-art technologies on behalf of Swiss Post in order to find new mobility solutions for public transport and at the interface with private transport options. In order to make this possible, PostBus is specifically searching for partners to help with the strategic and financial aspects. PostBus is in contact with various companies regarding the autonomous shuttle project in Sion. Together with these companies, Swiss Post wants to be influential in shaping the mobility of the future. 


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