First in the world: Ülemiste City tests a public transportation platform based on three self-driving buses

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Today, the first Estonian-developed self-driving bus with an integrated infrastructure started servicing passengers in a test run at Ülemiste City. The bus network in the campus will be supplemented with two further buses to test a public transportation platform based on three self-driving buses, a first in the world.  

In addition to self-driving buses, the smart public transportation system includes smart bus stops and a software platform that facilitates communication between all parts of the system and, prospectively, with regular public transportation systems. The goal of currents tests is to collect real-life experience and continue developing the buses as a natural extension of public transport.  

According to Taavi Aas, Minister of Economic Affairs, allowing self-driving buses into mixed traffic represents a significant step. “No route of such complexity has been used before, as it includes multiple challenges for autonomous vehicles, such as a tram track crossing and interactions with other road users. The long-term target is to integrate self-driving vehicles into our daily transport systems in areas where conventional public transport would not be cost-effective/rational, such as connections between different transport nodes (e.g., in Ülemiste, between the airport and the Rail Baltic terminal). Adoption of new technologies is our opportunity to increase user-friendliness and convenience of public transport to reduce the use of private cars,” he said. 

The buses in the campus will be put through various trials in the test period. The buses will have to adapt to human-controlled traffic, and they will have to maintain contact with the control centre and follow the instructions received. At the same time, it will be safe for pedestrians and human-powered vehicle users to move near Iseauto. For additional traffic safety, a vehicle expert is always on the bus during the test period. 

Ursel Velve, Management Board member of Mainor Ülemiste, said that self-driving buses are a good reflection of the vision for the future of the campus. “Ülemiste City is already the largest and fastest-growing business campus in the Baltics, and the number of people here is expected to double in five years. Our goal is to create a greener, more inspiring and friendly environment for our talents, which is why we are looking for innovative solutions to make the heart of the campus a car-free zone in the future. Currently, the self-driving buses can take passengers conveniently from the airport to the doors of our first homes but, in the future, the route could be extended to the Rail Baltica terminal, for instance,” she noted.   

According to Tanel Talve, representing Modern Mobility, the goal is to prepare other cities for adoption of technologies of the future. “In the future, smart bus stops will integrate the self-driving buses and regular public transport vehicles into an interlinked system. Passengers can use the display screen at the bus stop or a smartphone app to submit their travel requests and possible special requirements (wheelchair, baby stroller, etc.). Outside of rush hours, the buses will not drive the same line on a pre-determined schedule but will only respond to travel requests by passengers.”  

Project innovation and the development and testing of novel solutions is led by TalTech. “Originating from the Taltech research group on autonomous vehicles, the Iseauto self-driving bus has now become eligible for driving on streets, which is a unique achievement in the world in terms of the speed of development and successful cooperation between a university and the private sector,” said Raivo Sell, Iseauto Project Manager at TalTech.  

According to Mari-Ly Klaats, Management Board member of Auve Tech, the Estonian-developed self-driving vehicles in the public transportation network at Ülemiste City are part of the FABULOS project for testing smart city solutions. “We continue to have high ambitions – our aim is to offer the best-of-its-kind solution in the world and, thanks to our motivated and dynamic team, we are well on the way. We would also like to thank the initiators of the FABULOS project for this extraordinary opportunity that enables us to test ourselves and gain valuable knowledge for future challenges,” she noted.  

The Estonian pilot has received funding for its R&D work from the FABULOS project (Future Automated Bus Urban Level Operation Systems) which aims to prepare cities for adoption of innovative technologies and solutions in transportation. The FABULOS project is funded by European Union and coordinated by Forum Virium Helsinki. 

The project is implemented by the Mobile Civitatem Consortium comprising Modern Mobility, TalTech, Auve Tech and Fleet Complete. The cooperation partners include Ülemiste City, the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, the Transportation Department of the City of Tallinn, the Road Administration, Bercman Technologies, and Ericsson Eesti. The project is being implemented in two countries: Estonia, Tallinn (from mid-June) and Greece, Lamia (from August-September). 

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