EU wraps up first autonomous bus demonstration in Italy with mixed results

The European CityMobil2 project aims to demonstrate automated road transport systems in Europe, develop guidelines to design and implemented such systems and propose a legal framework for certifying such systems.

One of their key activities is to demonstrate autonomous buses operating in various European cities. From July until today (September 4) two autonomous electric buses supplied by French company Robosoft carried passengers on a 1.3km pedestrian stretch next ta a beach near Oristano in southern Italy. The small-scale demonstration operated on 38 days and transported 1600 persons in 3000 trips.

Each bus was overseen by an experienced bus driver at all times; for legal and insurance reasons all passengers had to register as ‘testers’ before boarding. Participation and acceptance – also on part of the professional bus drivers recruited for the demo (who could have been worried that the buses were an early step towards replacing them) – were very positive.

Valuable lessons were learned during the demo. Not everything worked as expected. For safety purposes, the car’s maximum speed was reduced from the planned 15 to 20km/h to 12km/h. This was due to the large number of pedestrians which were on the road at peak times and technical issues that had to do with sensor range.

The autonomous operation was also limited because of problems with GPS reception. Localization was uniquely based on GPS – which is not a very practical approach for autonomous vehicles (fortunately the next demonstrators will use additional localization mechanisms). Before the demonstrator started, trees had been cut back to ensure good GPS reception but nevertheless during todays live demonstration in a webinar GPS reception was spotty and the driver had to manually override the vehicle.

Another critical problem has hampered the project in the last few days: The sensors started to report non-existing obstacles. This causes the bus to stop immediately. Because of this problem,  the bus had to be driven manually for the live demonstration. Surprisingly the team did not have an explanation for this problem. Robosoft is epxected to analyze the problem to determine the cause. But it is hard to understand that such a critical issue is neither analyzed nor fixed when it arises.

We applaud the hard work that has been put into these demonstrators. But the demonstrator also shows that Europe needs to become much more serious in its efforts to develop autonomous vehicles if  it does not want to get completely outdistanced by the American competition.

Sources: CityMobil2 webinar on 2014-09-04, CityMobil2

Sony enters the market for automotive imaging sensors

Increasing demand for driver assistance systems and the need for better sensors has prompted Sony to enter the market for automotive imaging sensors. Beginning in 2015, Sony will make a new sensor available that performs much better in low-light situations. Even in moonlight the sensor can produce color images, the company claims. Sony, which is a leading supplier of image sensors but so far has not entered the automotive imaging market hopes to grab significant market share from the leading automotive imaging sensor suppliers such as US-based Omnivision and ON Semiconductor (formerly Aptina).

Better sensors are crucial for the success of fully autonomous vehicles. Advanced image sensors could reduce the dependence of autonomous vehicles on costly 3D Lidar systems. Better image sensors could reduce the number of Lasers within the rotating LIDAR systems. Google’s current LIDAR sensors currently contains 64 lasers. However, it is not likely that fully autonomous vehicles operating in urban contexts will be able to operate without any LIDAR sensors within the next few years.

Sony’s entry into this market shows the potential of this market and may increase the incentives for innovative start-up companies to developing even more advanced sensors (e.g. ASCar, Inc: Flash Lidar, LeddarTech: LED flash sensor, Quanergy: 3D Lidar).

Source: Nikkei Asian Review