Mobility of the future
September 2021: The futuristic-looking mini-buses travel through the area as quietly as a whisper at around 18 kilometers per hour and only jingle when they stop and start, just like the streetcars used to do. The maximum passenger capacity is six people. Due to the COVID restrictions, only three plus a safety driver are allowed. Whether it is a group of young people or the residents of a retirement home, the e-shuttle is ready for their transportation. During the ride, a safety driver stands on a marked spot in the passenger compartment and can control the vehicle manually via joystick if needed.
E-shuttle on the test stand
DEKRA team leader Yvonne Köhne is there for the mandatory morning check, which consists of a brake test, cleaning and checking the sensors and lighting, and more. The 46-year-old has worked in the Complete Vehicle department at the Technology Center in Klettwitz since 2013 and is currently responsible for the Advanced Driver Assistance System, Driver Assistance Systems and Cybersecurity team. Therefore, she is very familiar with the shuttles made by manufacturer EasyMile. “We have been working with the French manufacturer for a long time,” she says. The shuttles with an individual operating permit from DEKRA are already in use in Frankfurt, Kelheim, Berlin and Wusterhausen, among other places. The EasyMile used in Hamburg is already the third generation, and as project manager, Yvonne Köhne always checks on the shuttles in the area of operation.
A vehicle for the last mile
The special feature of the “eMOIN” project is not only the 7.3-kilometer route and the covered area, which is larger than anywhere else, but also the pilot use of Continental's MK100 braking system. The brake-by-wire system was installed for safe, comfortable braking and stopping of unmanned vehicles under all operating conditions. Added to this is the integration of an app, which enables quick booking of journeys. Completely independent of a timetable – “on demand” in other words. After all, the idea behind “eMOIN” is the “last mile,” the link between the station or stop and the user's home.
Yvonne Köhne prepares the brake test by placing the DEKRA HU adapter on the floor of the shuttle. Using the built-in decelerometer, the pitching tendency during compression can be measured to determine the average braking deceleration value. “Since the ‘eMOIN’ shuttle can only travel at 18 kilometers per hour, this measurement must be taken in full speed. The values are simply too low in manual mode,” says the specialist. The active safety features of the vehicle must also be tested, such as the emergency stop. “The sensors virtually create an invisible safety zone around the vehicle,” explains Köhne. “If an obstacle, for example another car or even a pedestrian, comes within one meter, the shuttle immediately slows down. And as soon as it falls below half a meter, the vehicle independently comes to a full stop.”
Navigation via joystick
In regular operations, this is where the safety operators will be needed. The e-shuttle will only resume driving by clicking on a manual confirmation button on a monitor in the passenger cell. In the event of a larger and permanent obstacle, they must navigate the shuttle past it by using the joystick, but only at a maximum speed of 6 kilometers per hour. That is because the vehicles are not completely autonomous, of course. “They travel along a previously calibrated route as if on rails,” explains Yvonne Köhne. Human intervention is necessary when it has to deviate from this path.
The interest of the population in the project is big: In total, more than 1,000 people have used the service of the three self-driving mini-buses. After six weeks, the “eMOIN” research project ended trial operation as planned at the end of October 2021, and the results are positive. Yvonne Köhne sums it up as follows: “From our point of view, the project has provided important insights. At the end of the day, we have very concrete experience of how automated vehicles can be used safely and in line with demand to connect a city district to the existing public transport network. All those involved will also take away learning effects from this practical deployment with regards to the challenges that still need to be solved in the further development and approval of such forward-looking concepts to enable their use on a larger scale.”