Major Projects such as CityMobil2 (www.citymobil2.eu) show that the experimental technology developments in the area of autonomous vehicles also takes place in the area of autonomous minibuses. As described in the use case "New Flexibility" of the Action Plan Automated Driving of the BMVIT, such projects have enormous potential to influence offers of tomorrow's mobility and to provide public transport in areas that are previously would not have been justifiable from an economic point of view. One important key to exploit the potential of autonomous vehicles is the development of technology that increases efficiency, and safety in interaction with passengers and other road users in the environment.
The main challenge is to increase the present low speed of autonomous minibuses. The necessary robustness for the detection of the surrounding environment will be enhanced by the use of sophisticated image processing technologies and their fusion with other available sensors mounted on the vehicle. This will result in a significant improvement in obstacle detection and vehicle positioning. In order to increase the acceptance of autonomous minibuses as means of transport, confidence-building measures are necessary. This applies to all other road users which will interact with the bus. The traditional informal communication with the bus driver has to be replaced by alternative, target-oriented information in order to overcome unsafe situations ('Will the pedestrian cross the street in front of the bus?'). In addition, the sense of safety in the bus plays also a major role for the acceptance. Here, the driving manoeuvers of the bus will be conveyed to the passengers transparently and thus will show a confidence-building effect. Autonomous minibuses as a completely new means of transport present new planning challenges due to the low vehicle speeds and the small vessel size of 10-20 passengers.
Attention should also be paid to preserve a high standard of accessibility. In order to bring the benefits of autonomous minibuses to their best possible effect, new tools for planning and evaluating the design of vehicles and bus stops as well as for the assessment of traffic impact and for line management need to be developed. All of the developments in the presented project will be first tested on non-publicly accessible test areas and finally evaluated in the long-term on a selected bus route in Aspern Seestadt. This will take into account traffic safety, cyber security and the existing legal bases. The findings of the project will be:
- robustness through the use and fusion of modern image processing technology,
- trust and acceptance-building interactions with passengers and other road users as well as their impact, and
- planning and design principles. These findings form the central prerequisites to enable a successful use of autonomous buses for public transport covering tomorrow's mobility needs.