Public Transit WEpod autonomous vehicle

Published on March 20th, 2016 | by Steve Hanley

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Autonomous Electric People Pods Coming To European Cities This Year

March 20th, 2016 by  
 

A group of techies located near the towns of Wageningen and Ede in the Netherlands wanted to create a shuttle service that could take people from the Ede train station to Wageningen University. They envisioned small, autonomous electric transportation modules that would drive themselves between the two. The vehicles were already available in the form of electrically powered people pods designed and built by EasyMile of Toulouse, France.

WEpod autonomous vehicle

And who does autonomous driving better than Google? So the group called Google and asked if they could use its autonomous driving systems. “No, you cannot,” came the swift reply. OK. Plan B. Build your own self-driving systems. With help from technology students at the University of Delft, that’s exactly what they did. For a total investment of under $4,000,000, the group modified EasyMile modules by adding radar and a guidance system so the WEpods, as they are called, can drive autonomously on public roads. That’s an amazing accomplishment.

The process has only taken two years so far, which is an incredibly short time in the tech world.”The secret was developing without a lot of parties involved,” Bakker says. “We were able to make quick decisions and move forward.”

And for you doubters out there, yes, the WEpods only travel 15 miles per hour and, yes, they only travel one route. But they may be the first vehicles allowed to operate legally on public roads without a human driver in the world. After two months of test runs down a 200 meter stretch of public road, the system will start transporting human passengers in May, according to Curbed.com.

“It’s very strange to trust a robot to drive you from one place to another,” says project manager Alwin Bakker. He says the government funded technology will be designed as an open-source project, meaning it will be available for other companies and municipalities to adapt and utilize. Already Rotterdam, Amsterdam, and Brussels have expressed an interest in the self driving WEpods.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle the team faced was getting approval from local authorities to operate the WEpods on public roads. The law often trails far behind what technology is capable of. Regulators around the world are rushing to catch up with what Tesla and Google and others are doing in the area of self driving cars. Elon Musk says some day, they will be as common as self service elevators, but that day is still far off.

Citymobil2 autonomous vehicle

Citymobil2, a program partially funded by the European Union, has a plan to address that very issue. If all goes according to plan, member countries of the EU could see driverless transportation legal before the United States. As reported by Tech Insider, Citymobil2 has been testing its driverless electric shuttles for the past three years.

Citymobil2’s electric shuttles were created by mobile app developer RoboSoft and driverless vehicle company EasyMile. They can carry up to 10 passengers at speeds of 15 miles per hour. Citymobil2 is about to complete the last of its trials. It will present a proposed legal framework that would make driverless public transportation possible to the European Commission by August of this year.

Citymobil2 thinks of driverless vehicles as a similar to railroads. “Railways are the safest land transport system because the system is designed as a whole — it allows for a safety assessment of the whole structure,” says project manager Carlos Holguin. While the US works slowly to propose rules that will ensure public safety, Citymobil2 is prepping to present a legal framework for driverless public transportation to this summer, Carlos Holguin, project manager at Citymobil2, told Tech Insider.

Citymobil2 has prioritized safety to ensure the European Commission adopts its proposal, drawing inspiration from railroads for its approach with driverless public transportation.  He thinks it’s best to split roads into different “modules” and focus on making each individual module safe for driverless cars.

To make that vision a reality, Citymobil2 plans to place sensors in roads and create smart traffic light systems designed to better prevent collisions. “That kind of tech is simple compared to Google [cars], and we think it’s more comprehensive,” Holguin explained. He believes creating smart streets in conjunction with driverless cars is the safer way to go. “That way it’s not based just on what the vehicle sees from the sensors,” he said.

Holguin said he hopes that EU member countries will be able to adopt a legal framework soon to improve on an existing public transport system that is deficient in many areas. “The problem with public transportation today is lousy quality service,” he said. “These kind of systems would apply good quality transportation not possible with seated drivers.”

Despite such tech giants as Tesla, Google, and Apple working on self driving cars, and both Ford and General Motors focusing on autonomous vehicles, it might be small, nimble operations like WEpods and Citymobil2 that end up leading the way into a future where self driving vehicles become common sights on public roads.

Photo credits: WEpod; polisvideo/YouTube

 

 

 


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About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.



  • Jerry3130

    Brilliant idea!

  • Burnerjack

    Most likely the future of Mass surface transit. Hopefully the notion of the “freedom of the open road” will not become a mythical notion in the future.

    • Steve Hanley

      The wealthy will have private parks where they can take their Lamborghinis out for a Sunday drive. The rest of us will be condemned to spending our days inside one of these people movers with other humans who sweat profusely.

      • Burnerjack

        In light of your(all too likely) prophecy, The words of Frank Zappa come to mind:”Moving to Montana soon…”

        • Steve Hanley

          Me? I’ve got a spot picked out on Cape Breton Island. Don’t think the concept of “public transportation” has even registered up there yet.

          • Burnerjack

            LOL! Nice place fo’ sho’, I don’t know its our age or what but you and I are on the same track on this!

  • ROBwithaB

    Now all they need to do is to opensource the software.

    • Steve Hanley

      Actually, that’s an excellent idea. And precisely what the group is doing, according to Curbed. I actually mentioned that in the story.

      BTW, is it possible to spell ROB without a B?

      • ROBwithaB

        Missed that detail, apparently. Open source is the way to go, to speed up the whole process. But with the amount of money involved, one can assume that there will be some serious moats around “proprietary” information.
        Experiencing a bit of a moral quandary about this. As an open source advocate, I think Tesla should help the world by making all the data public (except granular stuff that would infringe my privacy), especially because it is the customer’s data to begin with. Without people driving the cars, they wouldn’t have any data, after all.
        As a shareholder, I can see that their database of driven miles has the potential to be enormously valuable.

        A lot of people seem to hear a “D” when I introduce myself. Or various other letters. So I developed an entire rant in my head, in which I correct people who mistakenly called me Rod, or Ron, or Ross, or even Rock or Rog.
        “It’s ROB, okay? As in “steal and plunder, rape and pillage’. To take without asking. Rob! With a B. Not Rod. Do I look like a pornstar? Okay, well, I suppose maybe I do, but spare me the Rod. Spoil the child, if that’s what it takes. It’s THREE LETTERS, people! How can you get this wrong.”
        And so on. But it’s mostly just voices in my head. And i.r.l. I’m mostly quite polite when people get it wrong. Mostly…

        • Steve Hanley

          A most interesting response, Rob with a B. We have quite a group of characters around here. Welcome to the club! ; – )

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