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Test runs of Hamburg's first autonomous bus to start

Driverless HEAT bus undergoes tests - goal of fully autonomous operations by 2021

Hamburg’s brand new HEAT shuttle buses were presented Wednesday (July 31, 2019) for tests on a route in HafenCity from August. Five metres in length, less than three tons in weight and zero-emissions thanks to electricity, the minibus is part of the new Hamburg Electric Autonomous Transportation project which will integrate driverless e-shuttles into bustling traffic. The flagship project is unique in Germany and aims to prove the viability of autonomous, self-driving minibus in busy city traffic. Germany’s Ministry for the Environment is putting EUR 3.7 million towards the project.

Safety first!

The HEAT minibus, developed by IAV, will be tested along a 1.8 kilometre route with five stops including three regular HVV stops and two new HEAT stops. Emphasis is on safety. Michael Westhagemann, Hamburg’s Senator for Economics, Transport and Innovation, noted: “For us, of course, the rule is: Safety first! Public acceptance is critically important for the future use of autonomous vehicles. Road approval was required for the new vehicle with entirely different components than previous vehicles. The minibus will communicate continuously with sensors installed along the route and with HOCHBAHN’s control centre. Markus Schlitt, Head of Intelligent Traffic Systems at Siemens Mobility GmbH, said: “HEAT is a flagship project for us. Our intelligent infrastructure supports the HEAT minibus with an additional level of information that enables predictive driving.”

Bus to run in flowing traffic

Unlike existing autonomous bus systems, which travel at 15 km/h through traffic-calming areas, the HEAT bus should be able to travel up to 50 km/day in normal city traffic. “We have to be honest… it is not yet certain that autonomous driving using bus fleets will prevail in large cities,” said Henrik Falk, CEO of Hamburger Hochbahn AG (HOCHBAHN). Many issues are still unresolved and technical challenges need to be solved, Westhagemann pointed out as Hamburg is a “frontrunner” with this project.

Step-by-step procedure in trial operation

During the first phase on a fixed route without passengers, a vehicle attendant will be on board and can intervene immediately, if necessary. The vehicle will be tested for independent cruising and communication with the road sensors and the control centre. From mid 2020, up to ten passengers will be taken aboard and with an attendant. The minibus should be operating autonomously (without an attendant) according to SAE Level 4 specifications in time for the 2021 ITS World Congress. Experience gained at individual stages will help extend the route, increase the degree of automation and the speed to up to 50 km/h. The line will then be further developed.

Hamburg as an innovator of intelligent transport systems

Westhagemann added: “At the ITS World Congress in 2021, we will use HEAT and many other projects to demonstrate that Hamburg is a pioneer of innovative mobility solutions.” Matthias Kratzsch, Managing Director of IAV, noted: “The HEAT project is a prime example of how one can successfully shape the future of mobility: With the close co-ordination and interaction of cities, public transport systems and companies with complementary strengths.”

Sources and further information:

Melissa KnausAug. 2, 2019
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