Self-driving Shuttles — the future of transfers

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People are dreaming about self-driving cars since they have invented the regular car. In recent years more and more companies are investing in this technology and developing prototypes. Someone may say that they are still quite far from putting the product on the mass market. However, there is no doubt that there are some relatively simple functions that existing models can already perform. 

While the most famous IT companies like Google, Uber, and Tesla are focused on developing automotive cars, there are some smaller projects like FABULOS, Optimus Ride, Olli, Coast Autonomous, NAVYA, and others that seem to be more successful in applying self-driving mobility technology. Instead of setting up ambitious goals, they are focused on obtaining smaller needs with existing technologies.

"While much of the hype around autonomous vehicles has focused on passenger cars, the most advanced emerging use case is less sexy but more practical: self-driving shuttles that are already being used to ferry people in retirement communities, industrial complexes, shopping centers and airports."
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Chris O'Brien
Business and Technology Reporter

Why self-driving shuttles are more prospective than cars?

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Opposed to cars, Shuttles usually use the same route and the same schedule. It makes them more predictable and easy to “teach” technology. 

Usually, Shuttles are operating on a limited territory (like Campuses), so it is possible to upload to the shuttle’s system the extremely detailed map of the site. Also, the special road marking can be used there to improve the vehicle’s accuracy. These territories have limited access to other cars, so it reduces the chance of an accident.

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Shuttles can use the control center. For example, FABULOS prototypes have remote control of the vehicle, It keeps them automotive but makes them safer because there is always a person who is responsible for it.

The self-driving shuttles are already operating in different locations. FABULOS has launched a first pilot in Helsinki and they are planning to launch more in Estonia and Norway. Coast Autonomous has 63 successful trials by now. Olli vehicles are implemented in 12 different locations, in 3 of them the shuttles are open to the public. NAVYA driverless cars are operating in more than 30 places around the world.

Many automotive shuttles projects are collaborating with innovative transport software companies that are developing mobility platforms for on-demand vehicles. For example, Shotl (the partner of the FABULOS project) is creating a system that will connect multiple passengers that are going in the same direction with a moving shuttle. Basically, it allows the passengers to order a shuttle through the app by choosing the pick-up and drop off locations. The platform will automatically find a vehicle that has the closest route and the driver will receive a notification and change the route to pick up the new passenger. Together with FABULOS Shotl is adapting its system for self-driving shuttles what will disengage the drivers and create a driverless on-demand vehicle. At the same time, Coast Autonomous are developing on-demand self-driving carts for campuses and theme parks and on-demand mobility system to move goods.

FABULOS is using unique and innovative Sensible4 technology. It allows shuttles to operate in difficult weather and road conditions. Especially when it is raining or snowing, or when the road marking is not clear enough.

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How automotive shuttles can improve the tourism mobility?

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Airports

Airport inside and outside shuttles

Currently, airports use special shuttles to transfer passengers between terminals and from the airport building to the aircraft but using driverless vehicles they can optimize this process and reduce costs. Also, large distances in the airport territory make it difficult for workers to reach some of the airport facilities. With self-driving cars the staff mobility will become automotive.

Moreover, self-driving shuttles can replace public buses that connect the airport with the city. They can perform the same function but without a driver which makes it cheaper and more efficient.

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Spacious facilities

Theme parks, festivals, golf resorts, etc.

Some tourism facilities with large spacious territories can also implement regular autonomous shuttles that will cruise around and transfer guests from one place to another. For example, theme parks, festivals, or golf resorts where apartments are located far from the golf course.

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Smart tourism destinations

Public transport infrastructure

Most driverless vehicles mentioned above are designed for the city environment as a public transport so they can easily be used as a part of a smart tourism destination infrastructure. Self-driving shuttles can transfer travelers to the most popular touristic places, like attractions, beaches, museums, etc. In some places, they can also be used as sightseeing buses. They can cruise between popular transport hubs (railway and bus stations, ports, and airports), connecting them and providing better transport accessibility for tourists.

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Rural hotels

Transfers to the nearest town

Some hotels and resorts or any other accommodation facilities that are located in a rural area may also use regular or on-demand autonomous shuttles to transfer their guests to the nearest town.

Due to Covid-19 epidemic, the autonomous services become as demanded as never before. Disengaging employees reduces social contacts between people and makes the service safer. People who became more aware of health safety are more likely to choose driverless vehicles rather than regular ones. Therefore, destination management organizations should be interested in implementing self-driving shuttles in tourism facilities, especially in such Covid-19 affected destinations like Wuhan, Milan, New York, etc. 

Overall, while the Covid-19 crisis obliging the tourism companies to take new measures on reducing costs and optimizing operations, the autonomous vehicles are expected to become more popular shaping the future of mobility and introducing itself to the world by proving its significant impact and effect on the transport and leisure industries.

Authors: Alexey Petrash, Aznive Boghossian, Ikram Ouazzani Touhami

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