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The self-driving shuttle as a valuable lesson

The autonomous "MyShuttle" minibus that Mobility is operating together with partners in Zug has done its duty: the pilot project is drawing to a close at the end of 2019. The results were mixed. Autonomous driving certainly has a bright future ahead of it, but it also has major hurdles to overcome in urban transport.

The road to putting the MyShuttle on the streets of Zug was a bumpy one. Although the pilot project made rapid progress after its launch in 2017, it was soon slowed down by a change of supplier, the time required to obtain permits and technological challenges. Nevertheless, the key moment arrived last January when the self-driving bus travelled between the Metalli and Zug Railway Station in everyday traffic – first of all to map its surroundings, then with test passengers on board and, in autumn, it was made freely available for public use for a limited time.

"We wanted to deliberately stretch the limits of possibility."

Adrian Boller, Project Manager at Mobility

Mobility Project Manager Adrian Boller is delighted that the most important goal has now been achieved: "We have managed to integrate a self-driving vehicle into the everyday traffic of a city. This is a first for Switzerland". Cars, traffic lights, junctions and cyclists were just a few of the factors behind the challenging nature of this endeavour. Needless to say, security drivers were on board who could manually intervene if necessary. "We want to deliberately stretch the limits of possibility," explains Boller. "This has allowed Mobility to gather valuable experience for the future. We now know what it takes to operate self-driving cars, get them through the regulatory process and advance them technologically."

Sensors and networking as the sticking points

In some aspects, however, the limits of possibility were reached far more quickly than the project partners (SBB, Mobility, ZVB, Zug Technology Cluster and the Town of Zug) would have liked. For example, the shuttle’s sensor technology in particular entailed major challenges. You have to bear in mind that every movement on and near the road is registered – even falling snowflakes. "In the blink of an eye, the software then has to categorise what it sees and decide how to respond," says Boller. "For instance, it has to decide whether to only slightly decelerate the vehicle or bring it to a complete stop." Since the relevant technology is still in an early stage of development, the shuttle only rarely reached the desired stable speed. It is equally essential for infrastructure such as traffic lights to be developed in such a way that they can communicate with vehicles in the future. "Only then will it be possible to forge ahead with self-driving services in urban areas."