The rural commune of Gjesdal in southwestern Norway is tackling the first/last mile transportation gap head on with a new autonomous bus service that tests the capabilities of this innovation. The pilot project will run until mid-September and is part of the EU-funded FABULOS project: a unique pre-commercial procurement.
– The fleet of two autonomous vehicles (AVs) is rounded out with one electric Tesla and form part of an on-demand, door-to-door transit scheme to help Gjesdal residents get around town for errands and socialising, says Linn Terese Lohne Marken, project lead and CEO of Mobility Forus, a provider of self-driving vehicles and services.
Mobility Forus is one of the players in the Saga consortium, a research group founded specifically for the purposes of participating in the FABULOS initiative. It looks at how AVs operate in rural areas faced with steep hills, heavy traffic and pedestrians. For the Gjesdal project, the buses have been integrated in the local public transportation network, so passengers receive information about the service via national and local travel planner apps such as Google maps, Kolumbus and Entur. The route of the AVs connects the popular residential area near Lake Fjermestadvatnet, to Gjesdal’s city center.
To complement the solution, Saga also offers a door-to-door transportation service on-demand that can be ordered via the HentMeg-website, a service offered by the local public transport company Kolumbus. The on-demand system is managed by Spare, a Canada-based transit software provider.
– We think the future of safe, efficient and scalable transit is autonomous. This pilot project is an important step towards that future. We hope the residents of Gjesdal are as excited to try the AVs, as we are to help power them. We can’t wait to see what impact it will have on transit operations, says Spare co-founder and CEO Kristoffer Vik Hansen
The AVs, nicknamed, Gudrun and Gerard, are all-electric minibuses produced by the French robotics company Navya. The bus is autonomous according to SAE level number three, meaning it can take over driving functions under certain circumstances. For the pilot, buses have a maximum permitted speed of 18 km per hour. The AVs also have trained operators onboard as per current safety regulations, who can take over when Gudrun and Gerard need a helping hand.
– We hope this innovative technology will encourage people to leave the car at home and opt to get around using transit instead, says Frode Fjeldsbø, mayor of Gjesdal Municipality. – If successful, we would be open to making AVs a permanent part of our transport system, he adds. He received feedback from young travellers that the shuttle's exterior is welcoming.
The Gjesdal project runs through September 11th and is available M-F, 9am-3pm. Once complete, the AVs will move to Helmond in the Netherlands for a second pilot based on the same service and technology parameters.