High-tech street map helps robot bus find its way

April 10, 2016 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
In the Dutch province of Gelderland, an autonomous shuttle bus travels around on public roads. Therefore the electric mini bus, dubbed WEpod, needs to be able to navigate at particular high spatial precision.

WEpod is a community project in cooperation with the Dutch province of Gelderland and students from the Wageningen University & Research Centre and Delft University of Technology (TU Delft). The handicap-accessible buses have six seats each – but neither a steering wheel nor pedals for brake and accelerator. Since the WEpods are designed to travel on normal roads (as opposed to similar projects requiring purpose-designed lanes or even rails), the vehicles need to be able to navigate very exactly.  

Towards this end, the WEpods maneuver through normal traffic using a set of sensors, cameras, radars, lasers and controls, designed to monitor and both quickly and reliably respond to changes in environment or traffic conditions. Last but not least it relies on an NDS (Navigation Data Standard) map database from Mapspace that provides comprehensive road geometry data with more detailed information for objects and pinpoint locations than standard map information. The enriched data from Mapscape is then delivered to the electronic horizon solution from automotive software provider Elektrobit. The electronic horizon generates highly precise positioning information in accordance with the open ADASIS v2 specification with a range of enhancements, such as lateral offset from the road center line. This electronic horizon data is continuously updated as the vehicle is driving autonomously. It is then interpreted by EB’s ADASIS v2 Reconstructor software module into information usable by the shuttle’s ECUs, enabling the driverless vehicle to prepare for and respond to real-world situations. In case of emergency, passengers can directly contact the WEpod control room from within the shuttle, which continuously monitors vehicle safety. Shuttle attendants will also be on board to assist passengers during the three month test phase.

There are currently two WEpods in service in the province of Gelderland, running between the towns of Wageningen and Ede, though plans for expansion are in place. With a maximum speed of 40 kmph (25 km/h during the test phase), the vehicles