HEAT is back: autonomous bus is on the roads again

19.06.2020  — 

Berlin. The next test phase begins for the autonomous minibus, with a focus on connectivity with the control center and the roadside infrastructure. The plan is to take the first passengers onboard in the late summer.

Der autonome HEAT Shuttle beim Ladevorgang in Hamburg.
Image copyright: Hochbahn AG

Back on the roads again: the next test phase in Hamburg’s HafenCity for the autonomous minibus at the center of the HEAT project (Hamburg Autonomous Electric Transport) is starting next week. The emission-free electric bus can then be seen driving round the laps of its test circuit all summer long, this time at speeds of up to 25 km/h. Next year it will be one of the showcase projects for the ITS World Congress.

Matthias Kratzsch, President and CTO at IAV: “We are very glad that at long last, we can now start testing the revamped and improved shuttle in the HafenCity again. Recent months were taken up to analyze the data from the first test phase, improve crucial aspects of the hardware and software and thus, prepare the shuttle for the next test phase. We are confident that the shuttle will cope with much longer distances compared to last year and have no problems merging with the flow of traffic with other road users. We expect to achieve clear progress in the technological development of autonomous driving.”

Journeys in the current test phase will be focusing on interaction between the vehicle and the infrastructure. In future, the control center will provide the shuttle with its route including the stops that will be called at. The roadside infrastructure supplies additional data about what is happening on the street. The data informs the shuttle among others about vehicles, cyclists or passers-by beyond the range of the shuttle’s sensors and cameras. This is particularly relevant, for example, when there are objects in a concealed junction or hidden by a larger vehicle. Furthermore, this communication allows the vehicle pass traffic lights without intervention on the part of the vehicle attendant.

Markus Schlitt, Head of Intelligent Traffic Systems at Siemens Mobility: “With the shuttle now back on the road again, the project is moving into what is probably the most exciting phase. After completing the system tests in a few months, the entire system consisting of vehicle, infrastructure and control center can demonstrate its capabilities in real road traffic and also carry passengers for the first time.”

The autonomous shuttle will now be travelling at speeds of up to 25 km/h, which is up to 10 km/h faster than in 2019, allowing it to merge with the average speed of the general flow of traffic on the test circuit in the HafenCity.

The shuttle will be operating on the 800-meter section of the test circuit with information fed from three sources: data obtained from its own surroundings sensors, information from the roadside infrastructure provided by SIEMENS and from the newly integrated roadside infrastructure implemented by Hamburg Verkehrsanlagen (HHVA), together with a map of the current route made available by Hamburg city authorities that is accurate down to just a few centimeters.

“We are proud to be part of this interdisciplinary team and to contribute to making further progress with the highly innovative, pioneering technology in the HEAT research and development project”, explains Volker Rech, CTO at HHVA.

Henrik Falk, CEO at HOCHBAHN: “Our project shows what new mobility can look like, with the first passengers having the option to try it out for themselves from the late summer. I am sure that the people of Hamburg and the experts attending the 2021 ITS World Congress will be delighted.”

When driving, the three sources of information are compiled for high-precision definition of the vehicle’s position and any deviations from the ideal position.

The autonomous shuttle bus has already been equipped with a passenger information system in preparation for taking its first passengers. Two monitors in the vehicle will then show the next stops with planned and actual arrival times, as well as information about the rest of the route.

This test phase is setting the prerequisites for the next major milestone. From late summer 2020, it should be possible for the shuttle to take its first passengers. There will still be a vehicle attendant on board.

One of the major challenges for the research project remains the legal framework conditions for driving without a vehicle attendant pursuant to SAE Level 4. At the moment, the valid legal framework does not yet cover autonomous driving. As a result, extensive procedures are involved in covering all aspects of the homologation and authorization processes, which depend to a great extent on the regulatory requirements.

More information on the project is available at https://www.hochbahn.de/hochbahn/hamburg/en.

Project partners

Hamburger Hochbahn AG
Founded in 1911, Hamburger Hochbahn AG carries over 1.2 million passengers daily with its fleet of 250 metro trains and 1,000 buses. As one of 34 partners in the Hamburger Verkehrsverbund (HVV), HOCHBAHN serves over 1,400 stops in the city and is the largest transport company in the HVV. Around 6,000 employees work for HOCHBAHN around the clock to provide attractive public transport and convenient, highly modern mobility in Hamburg.

Authority for Economics, Transport and Innovation
The Authority for Economics, Transport and Innovation (BWVI) is one of eleven specialized authorities of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg and is responsible for economic and transport policy as well as for promoting innovation. To implement the HEAT project, the BWVI is drawing on the competencies of the Department of Home Affairs and Sport, the Police Traffic Directorate, the Department of Roads, Bridges and Water (LSBG) and the municipal Hamburg Verkehrsanlagen (HHVA). Within the project, the LSBG is responsible for traffic planning, while HHVA implements and operates the roadside infrastructure.

Employing more than 8,000 members of staff, IAV is one of the world’s leading engineering partners to the automotive industry. The company has been developing innovative concepts and technologies for future vehicles for more than 35 years, generating turnover of around 1 billion euros in 2019. The client base includes all renowned automotive manufacturers and suppliers worldwide. Besides vehicle and powertrain development, IAV has been involved in electromobility and autonomous driving from an early stage and is today one of the leading engineering providers in this fields. Together with the Development Centers in Berlin, Gifhorn and Chemnitz/Stollberg, IAV also has sites in Munich, Sindelfingen and Ingolstadt, as well as other European countries, Asia and also North and South America.

Siemens Mobility GmbH
Siemens Mobility is a separately managed company of Siemens AG. As a leader in transport solutions for more than 160 years, Siemens Mobility is constantly innovating its portfolio in its core areas of rolling stock, rail automation and electrification, turnkey systems, intelligent traffic systems as well as related services. With digitalization, Siemens Mobility is enabling mobility operators worldwide to make infrastructure intelligent, increase value sustainably over the entire lifecycle, enhance passenger experience and guarantee availability.

IKEM – the Institute for Climate Protection, Energy and Mobility – is an independent research institute that addresses current climate protection, energy and mobility transformation issues. One of the institute’s focal points is autonomous driving: Among other things, IKEM is responsible for the legal support of test operations and evaluating business and operator models for autonomous shuttles.

The German Aerospace Center e.V. (DLR) is operated by the federal government. It also conducts research and development work in the fields of energy, transport, security and digitalization. In the HEAT project, DLR researchers are investigating the needs and responses of users and other road users related to autonomous buses.

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