Interview: Mario Nowack
Project Manager ABSOLUT, Leipzig Transport Authority (Leipziger Verkehrsbetriebe GmbH, LVB)
Mario Nowack is the Project Manager for the project ABSOLUT.
Mini buses without drivers, which can be ordered by mobile phone: This should be a reality in Leipzig in two years. The Leipziger Verkehrsbetriebe (LVB) is planning to implement the ABSOLUT project, a test route between the suburban railway stations at the exhibition grounds and the BMW plant in the industry park “Nord”. The eight-seater should guarantee a good connection around the clock - thus also outside the peak times of the commuter traffic, the bus should be ordered on demand over a user app and with up to 70 kilometers per hour to be on the way. The project is a key component of future mobility and is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. It also reflects the objective of the Free State of Saxony to develop and promote concrete pilot projects for the research and development of autonomous transport systems.
What is the goal of the innovation project ABSOLUT?
The core idea of the project ABSOLUT is the development of vehicles and their exemplary use for the test track between the suburban railway stations “Messe” and “BMW Plant” with local speed and high automation, which will be integrated in the future range of transport services of the Leipzig Transport Authority (LVB). In addition to the testing and approval of the vehicles, the subject of development is also the pilot operation in public space for testing various deployment concepts. This includes an 24/7 or "on demand" offer, a booking and information interface developed with the users and the setup and networking with a control center. The project is accompanied by the study of the user acceptance of autonomous bus traffic. In the project the stakeholders business companies, science and universities and the City of Leipzig work closely together with the transport companies that have taken over the project management. For the predominantly Saxon partners, including small and medium-sized companies, it is possible in the field of digital communication technologies and artificial intelligence to apply and expand the existing competencies in order to strengthen the economic and scientific location of Saxony for the future.
Does the bus actually reach the level 5 of autonomous driving?
No, this is not intended, since the vehicle is NOT completely "autonomous" (ie automated) to act between start and finish but should drive highly automated on a predetermined and upgraded route (line with defined stops) and under connection to a control center. The German Federal Highway Research Institute (Bundesanstalt für Straßenwesen, BASt) is the technical-scientific research institute of the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure. This authority of the German state has made the classification of autonomous driving in different stages. Thus, we will reach more than autonomy level 4, the so-called high automation. The guidance of the vehicle is permanently taken over by the system. If the system no longer copes with the driving tasks, the driver can be asked to take the lead. Autonomy level 5 would be full automation. Then no driver would be required. Other than setting the goal and starting the system, no human intervention would be required. The vehicle would then be equipped without steering wheel and pedals.
Is the bus used in a so-called "restricted area", ie a protected area, or in normal traffic?
The test field will be in public road traffic, but limited to a specially adapted route. This is relevant for admission. For at present, neither the USA nor China nor in Europe, vehicles of the autonomy levels 4 or 5 are approved for the regular operation on public roads in general. This approval is currently not even planned. In spatially limited and defined areas, however, a test operation is very well permitted.
How fast will the bus drive?
The aim of this research and development project is the highly automated driving with local speeds. The approval of the vehicle without automation is intended for at least 70 km / h. The road space of the test field has permissible maximum speeds of up to 70 km / h. Currently there is no shuttle in this speed range approved for public passenger transport. Today's projects can reach a maximum of 12 to 18 km / h. This is hardly faster than walking, the advantage in the rain is that you stay dry.
How is the bus timetable controlled? Is there a fixed timetable or can the bus be called by app?
Three use cases will be developed in the project: Driving according to a fixed timetable, flexible in terms of time ("call bus" orderable via app) as well as locally flexible - of course only on the upgraded route.
How much does a fully equipped autonomous-driving bus cost?
That's difficult to answer. Specifically, this is currently not quantifiable for the planned scope of functions, since vehicles in this form are not available on the market. Accordingly, our prototypes will be very valuable.
Will this technology also be applicable to private passenger cars?
Sensors and algorithms are certainly also usable in private passenger cars, but other premises such as higher speeds and more autonomous "action" of the vehicle are more relevant here. The connection to traffic control centers as well as the authorization for passenger transport, which are also topics of the project, are clearly more specific to public transport.