Autonomous bus roll out in rural Norway

Autonomous bus roll out in rural Norway

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

The rural commune of Gjesdal in southwestern Norway is tackling the first/last mile transportation gap head on with a new autonomous bus service. A pilot project will run until mid-September as part of the EU-funded FABULOS pre-commercial procurement project.

The autonomous vehicles (AVs) from French developer Navya provide an on-demand, door-to-door transit scheme to help Gjesdal residents get around town for errands and socialising, says Linn Terese Lohne Marken, project lead and CEO of Mobility Forus, a provider of self-driving vehicles and services.

Mobility Forus is one of the players in the Saga consortium, a research group founded specifically for the FABULOS project. It looks at how AVs operate in rural areas faced with steep hills, heavy traffic and pedestrians. For the Gjesdal project, the buses have been integrated in the local public transportation network, so passengers receive information about the service via national and local travel planner apps such as Google maps, Kolumbus and Entur. The route of the AVs connects the popular residential area near Lake Fjermestadvatnet, to Gjesdal’s city centre.

“We think the future of safe, efficient and scalable transit is autonomous. This pilot project is an important step towards that future. We hope the residents of Gjesdal are as excited to try the AVs, as we are to help power them. We can’t wait to see what impact it will have on transit operations,” says Kristoffer Vik Hansen, co-founder and CEO of Spare, which supplies automated on-demand transportation software to cities around the world.

The AVs, nicknamed, Gudrun and Gerard, are all-electric minibuses that operate to SAE level three for autonoomous driving in certain defined circumstances. For the pilot, buses have a maximum permitted speed of 18 km per hour. The AVs also have trained operators onboard as per current safety regulations, who can take over if necessary.

“We hope this innovative technology will encourage people to leave the car at home and opt to get around using transit instead,” said Frode Fjeldsbø, mayor of the Gjesdal Municipality. “If successful, we would be open to making AVs a permanent part of our transport system.”

The Gjesdal project runs through September 11th and is available M-F, 9am-3pm. Once complete, the AVs will move to Helmond in the Netherlands for a second pilot based on the same service and technology parameters. 

The FABULOS (Future Automated Bus Urban Level Operation System) project aims to establish and deliver a systemic proof-of-concept for autonomous first/last-mile public transport as part of an urban area’s existing transit infrastructure. It has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and will run from January 2018 until December 2020 with partners in Estonia, Finland, Greece, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal.

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