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On August 22nd, the Region of Hannover, together with Pendel Mobility, inaugurated a new autonomous vehicle project. We took the time to sit down with Christian Riester to chat and learn more about it. 

Hi Christian! It’s great to take the time to sit and discuss this new milestone, for both the Hannover Region and Pendel Mobility. To get started, could you introduce us to the pilot project in Hannover ? 

 
Sure! The pilot consists of the testing of an EZ10 EasyMile autonomous shuttle, which will connect a tramway stop to a new university campus located 1km away. The project is driven by the Region of Hannover, and is operating between the city of Hannover and the city of Garbsen throughout the next 10 weeks. The project is funded by the EU project PAV (Planning for AVs).

 The objective of this pilot is to test an autonomous shuttle during low-peak hours as a substitution to the large bus.

Currently, there is a conventional bus connection every 10 minutes, ensuring the continuous transportation of people during the day. However this large bus is, in reality, mostly used during the morning and late afternoon when students and faculty staff come and go. During the rest of the day, the bus is mostly empty. On top of that, bus drivers express a lack of motivation to drive this route ; drivers are actually being substituted every 90 mins for that reason.
 
Therefore, the objective of this pilot is to test an autonomous shuttle during these low-peak hours as a substitution to the large bus.

Interesting! You have been preparing this project for quite some time, could you let us know what have been the main challenges associated with this deployment ?

 

The preparation of the pilot had to involve municipal services of both cities (Hannover and Garbsen), therefore doubling the coordination effort. It was challenging to understand and identify responsibilities for various aspects of the pilot (from land management to legal questions) and to manage the various stakeholders to solve practical & operational questions. Besides, regulatory procedures had to be met. For example, the “exemption to operate” can take up to two months to obtain, but we actually got it in two days in Hannover ; a great effort by the local team!

Also, the route is very challenging, as it is a single lane going over a bridge, meaning it is very difficult to overtake the shuttle which goes at a maximum speed of only 15km/h. The route has been limited to 30km/h for the pilot, but was initially 50km/h, with drivers usually exceeding the limit. It did create some frustation from some car drivers.

Even though it seems that the shuttle cannot uphold an adequate service level to operate as a complete replacement, we are expecting the technology to rapidly progress and enable new use cases in the next few years in Hannover and Garbsen. 

It seems that these projects involve a lot of resources ; what is the main driver today to test an autonomous vehicle as a public or private organisation?

In the last 5 to 10 years, the technology has progressed in a way where we now see a lot of organisations getting started with the testing of different use cases for autonomous vehicles. In the end, it’s a big computer with wheels; and just think about how fast computers or smartphones have progressed in the past 10 years.  A lot of financial promise and increased service quality are being promised.
Testing today already helps transport planners to shape their plans and budget for the next decade.
These pilot projects are about training your organisation and making long-term plans based on actual experiences. The reason you should test is to actually explore and identify areas and use cases where autonomous vehicles already make sense today. Finally, it is a way to raise awareness among the local population and explore social acceptance of the technology ; it is always interesting to read results from surveys, but also the comments received on social media ; where we see a wide variety of reactions. 

These projects, therefore, have a very strategic value. What is your role as Pendel Mobility and what do you bring to your clients in this ecosystem?

 

We are a service integrator for autonomous vehicles for public transport and private organisations, focusing on passenger transportation, logistics and delivery of goods and street and facility management. We prepare, organise and evaluate autonomous vehicle projects, by providing the strategic link between our clients and the technology partners.

With years of experience, we have developed a holistic view of the industry and we help our clients to build realistic plans for autonomous vehicles. We support organisations in the design and feasibility of projects, budget estimates, route selections, and to help them in the project development and procurement phases. We are saving a lot of time to get our clients up to speed.

Using your experience for the final question ; what are your expectations for the coming years within the world of autonomous mobility?
 
In the next few years, we will know much more about the actual use case scenarios that make sense. We will know where the technology has its practical limits, but also where it makes sense to remove a bus driver, because the question is often asked: “Is it always necessary to implement an autonomous vehicle instead of a regular bus service?”.
 
The problem is that the vehicles are, at the moment, very expensive, and they are not manufactured in a production line. This might change in the future with the demand growing, and of course the regulation is evolving to include more experiments without safety operators, paving the way for the economic benefits associated with autonomous vehicles. 
 
The main objective during the next years will be to further define the business case of autonomous vehicles and adjust the service quality in line with the technology. 

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