From this spring onwards, there will be record numbers of robot buses driving on the roads of Helsinki. The first robot bus of the spring will start operating in Suvilahti from Thursday 26 April onwards – weather permitting! The route of the bus, which was developed in the SOHJOA project between Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Forum Virium Helsinki and other cooperation partners, will run from the gate of Suvilahti via Stadin Panimo to Sörnäisten rantatie. The environment is dynamic, as the robobus will be driving along with other traffic and in narrow alleys, without clear road traffic driving lines.
During the test drives, researchers will also be conducting user surveys with passengers, with the aim of finding out what the residents of Helsinki think about robot buses and automated traffic.
Helsinki aims to become a carbon neutral city by 2035. Achieving this goal will require the City to conduct a variety of trials in order to find the best emission-free solutions. In the process of doing so, the City also aims create the most effective transport services in the world. For residents, this will mean carbon neutral transport options and easy-to-use services, while companies can look forward to a world-class test environment for smart traffic. These development efforts will also provide the City of Helsinki with a competitive advantage and the science community with a fruitful research environment.
Robot buses to be introduced in different parts of the city
In addition to the Suvilahti robot bus, another robot bus line is set to commence operation in Kivikko in the early summer. The bus in question is the first robot bus purchased by the City of Helsinki, and it will be operated and tested in Kivikko on a regular bus route. Called the Helsinki RobobusLine, this will be the first long-term robot bus trial in Helsinki operating on a regular route. The trial is part of the mySMARTLife project, which promotes environmentally friendly urban living. The bus will be operating in a suburban neighbourhood in Kivikko, serving people going from Ring I to the local frisbee course.
Thirdly, the Sohjoa Baltic project will commence robot bus operations in the Helsinki region in the early autumn. The project aims to introduce robot buses to the countries bordering the Baltic Sea as part of trials focusing on smart traffic and low-emission public transport.
In addition to all this, Helsinki is set to create the first robot bus line integrated into the existing public transport system in 2018–2020. The line will operate on the Pasila and Kalasatama axis. The trial is being produced by Forum Virium Helsinki’s FABULOS project.
“This range of robot bus pilot projects will create a large-scale, internationally attractive test environment, bringing together residents and companies specialising in the field to seek the best ways to introduce automated vehicles to the city and improve the everyday lives of residents in the process. The aim is to also promote European competitiveness by finding urban solutions that are based on effective public transport and the services of the digital sharing economy,” says Development Director Pekka Koponen from the City of Helsinki’s innovation unit Forum Virium Helsinki.
Valuable lessons learned from Helsinki’s first pilot
The longest robot bus trial conducted so far has been the two-year SOHJOA project, which will conclude with the test drives in Suvilahti. What kind of lessons were learned in Helsinki’s first robot bus trial?
“In addition to providing us with an excellent overview of Finnish smart traffic operators, the SOHJOA project also gave us some hands-on experience in regard to the current state of automated traffic and related technologies, i.e. where the industry is headed and what kind of issues still need to be resolved. I suppose that the main lesson learned was that the technology still needs to advance further before automated vehicles can take their place in their transport chain in a way that responds to transport needs and is also economically viable,” summarises Project Manager Oscar Nissin.
Another lesson learned from the trials conducted so far is that automated electric minibuses will, from both a logistical and economic standpoint, soon be ready to complement public transport, as long as their technology continues to develop. The robot buses currently in operation are suitable for built areas with small amounts of traffic. In other words, they are not quite yet capable of operating effectively in city centres or green area that lack solid structures.
The promotion of automated public transport requires close cooperation between the City and other actors. This cooperation is currently going well. The SOHJOA project, for example, has been a collaborative effort between Metropolia, Forum Virium Helsinki, Aalto University, the National Land Survey of Finland, the Finnish Transport Agency, Trafi, the 6Aika project and Tampere University of Technology.
The robot buses will operate in Suvilahti from 26 April 2018 onwards during the day, Mon–Fri, approximately between 10 am and 5 pm. The bus rides are free, and everyone is welcome to hop on for a test drive. The exact timetables and weather-related exceptions will be published on Twitter.
Oscar Nissin, Metropolia University of Applied Science’s Smart Mobility Innovation Center
Pekka Koponen, smart traffic development director at Forum Virium
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