A self-driving electric minibus supplied by NAVYA to the city of Helsinki accepted the first passengers on board on May 14, 2018, launching scheduled service in regular traffic on roads. The RobobusLine project for commercially viable automated bus operation in the Finnish city is projected to start in three years’ time.
The Helsinki RobobusLine’s minibus will operate for six months over the summer and fall of 2018. It runs 3 to 6 times an hour between 9 AM and 3 PM on weekdays, carrying passengers from a stop of a regular Helsinki bus line to a sports park.
The Helsinki RobobusLine complements the network of Helsinki’s metropolitan public transit authority Helsinki Region Transport (HSL), and is incorporated into the region's trip planner.
The top speed on the route is 18 km/h (5 mph), slightly below the minibus’s maximum speed of 25 km/h. Initially there will be an operator on board.
“One of the main goals of the project is to provide an innovation platform for enterprises to produce a consortium who can develop automated bus operation into a commercially viable option for Helsinki Region Transport in the last-mile service – taking riders from a public transit station to stops near their homes and offices,” says the Helsinki RobobusLine project leader Eetu Rutanen of Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, which operates the bus and conducts the project with support from the City of Helsinki and the European Union.
Typically, the last-mile routes cannot be operated viably with conventional buses, but could become commercially feasible with driverless buses.
“We study user behavior, for example, how likely people are to opt for public transit rather than drive when there is a public transit option available for the last mile,” Rutanen explains. Lengthy distances to public transit stations are often the reason for opting for a private car.
The Helsinki RobobusLine project is one of the smart mobility projects in Helsinki designed to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from transportation with electric vehicles and increased use of sustainable public transportation. The City of Helsinki has announced a plan to become carbon neutral by 2035. Helsinki Region Transport plans to give up fossil fuels by 2021.
The launch of Helsinki RobobusLine marks a shift from an experimental phase to regular operation with self-driving minibuses. RobobusLine is the first long-range project in Finland to operate an automated electric minibus on a fixed route.
The Robobus vehicle from NAVYA of France represents the latest generation of automated electric minibuses. Its guidance and detection systems combine data from Lidar sensors, cameras, GPS RTK, IMU and odometry, which are merged and interpreted by deep learning programs.
The Helsinki RobobusLine project is supported by the EU-funded mySMARTLife project, in which Helsinki develops smart commercial-scale solutions with other European cities to cut urban carbon dioxide emissions, focusing on transportation and housing.