This story initially appeared on ABA – Invest in Austria‘s website.
Recently the first autonomous or self-driving bus was put into operation in Vienna, and the first autonomous air taxi in Austria should be ready for series production by 2020. It seems that the mobility of the future has long begun in the Alpine Republic. This is, last but not least, evidence of the ideal conditions which innovative companies benefit from here.
We have already described in another blog article about autonomous driving that Austrians are among the most fervent users in Europe of public transportation. Recently, the public transport operator Wiener Linien in the Austrian capital city of Vienna started offering passengers a very special attraction, namely a free joyride with the first driverless electric-powered bus. Two specimens of this promising vehicle have been subject to comprehensive tests for about one year in a garage of the Wiener Linien before the route featuring ten stops around the underground line U2 in Vienna’s Seestadt residential area was fed into the bus system. Ten people are allowed to take a seat in the driverless e-powered minibuses and enjoy the journey – currently at no cost. Instead of the driver, a trained operator is on board in case an unforeseen obstacle is in the way of the bus, for example a falsely parked car. In this case, the bus is brought back to its original route by means of a controller.
Public transport at the service of science
Under the overall management of the Wiener Linien and the scientific direction of the Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT), the project partners Austrian Road Safety Board (KFV), TÜV Austria, Siemens Mobility and the bus manufacturer Navya have been intensively working at different levels on the electric minibuses since April 2018. “auto.Bus – Seestadt” is still a research project, but soon it could emerge as an attractive additional offering for the so-called “first and last mile” which conveniently and safely bring passengers to the nearest underground station where they will quickly get to the centre of the city. Navya, the French producer of autonomous vehicles, already plans a far-reaching expansion of its activities in Austria in the coming months.
According to Arno Klamminger, Head of the Center for Mobility Systems at AIT Austrian Institute of Technology, the focus of test operations is the robust perception of the surrounding environment and the interaction between the bus and passengers or road users on public streets. Several scan trips were carried out along the route before the vehicle was put into operation. All necessary optical distance measurements were registered by means of 3D-LiDAR recordings. The buses recognise all obstacles not recorded in the system as obstacles which they cannot drive around. A traditional timetable does not exist. Passengers can check on a digital map at any time – completely digitally – where the autonomous bus is at a given moment, namely via QR code or at www.wienerlinien.at/auto-bus-seestadt. The objective is to be able to offer bus service at regular intervals via AI-controlled e-timetables.
Autonomous, not only on the ground but in the air
It was already mentioned in the blog article about public transport in Austria that quite a few innovations focusing on autonomous driving come from Austria. This is not least good evidence of the extraordinarily favourable business climate for R&D activities in the country. It is not for nothing that numerous international companies decide not only to carry out research but also to produce in Austria.
The underlying reasons are:
- differentiated research funding instruments
- the research tax credit
- an excellent educational system
- the availability of excellently trained specialists
- a colourful diversity of renowned research institutions
The Chinese company EHang also decided in favour of Austria. Together with the Austrian aviation company FACC, it wants to make the autonomous air taxi “EHang 216” ready for series production by the year 2020. Several weeks ago, this was successfully tested in the presence of journalists at the 4 Gamechanger Festival held in the Generali Arena in Vienna. According to former Minister of Transport Norbert Hofer, it is very realistic that air taxis will be underway in Austria in the year 2025. He is convinced that it may be possible to fly autonomously earlier than to travel in self-driving cars.
The psychology of autonomous driving
Recently the London-based AI startup Humanising Autonomy of the Viennese co-founder and CEO Maya Pindeus also attracted attention. It attracted USD 5.3 million in capital within the context of a seed round of financing for the commercialisation of a system for autonomous vehicles which was developed to interpret human behaviour.
Humanising Autonomy integrates comprehensive behavioural models, including those of a psychological nature, into an image recognition algorithm, in which case the body language and facial expressions as well as the typical driving behaviour of different cities are taken into account. The cooperation partners of the startup include Daimler, Airbus and the management company of London’s public transportation system. The startup shows the broad spectrum of issues related to the nascent field of autonomous driving. In any case, Austria in its role as a research location is ready to meet any challenges and can continue to rely on the clear commitment of political decision makers to Austria as an innovation location.
By Mag. Ing. Wilfried Gunka, International Director Asia, Automotive Industry & Mobility