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The Need For Speed!

need-for-speedBlog by Robbert Lohmann, Chief Commercial Officer

You have to provide value (short travel times) to the passenger. Depending on the value that the passenger experiences, he’s going to be willing to pay for the service that is provided.

The Need for Speed for Autonomous Shuttles

Loved the game (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Need_for_Speed). I was addicted to it and could play for hours, but every now and then my parents actually needed the PC for something. Or I had to let my brother play also ☹ Obviously I always played arcade mode with infinite lives to ensure that my (lack of) driving skills wouldn’t impact my chances of actually completing the race.

Roughly 25 years later (yes, I am that old!) I am advocating taking drivers off vehicles, introducing autonomous shuttles. A psychologist might conclude that this is directly related to all my fender benders and crashes back then. Sure, blame it on the video game…

I can’t help but chuckle about the fact that The Need For Speed is very appropriate for the stage where the market for autonomous shuttles is at. Worldwide companies are ‘supporting’ the hype with shuttles crawling around at a snail’s pace. Other vehicles, carrying freight, aren’t any faster. Often supported with statements about being the first, either in a specific country, city or bigger claims like on a public road. The market seems to be perpetually stuck at 15kph. Which might explain why the term LSAV (low speed autonomous vehicles) is gaining traction. Ironic ain’t it, that apparently the term for the market is currently the only thing picking up speed 😊. Or is it?

Literally the need for speed

Just to get one thing very clear: literally doesn’t mean speeding up the video to make the shuttle appear faster. That’s deceitful when not obvious, but at least plainly admitting the vehicle is too slow. And I learned from my granddad at the ripe old age of 8 or so, that anything with ‘too’ in front is not good.

When you are going somewhere, you want to get there (now that name start to make sense!). Fast. The journey is not the destination. Traveling is a necessary evil to get from A to B. It should not be an event, but forgettable – which is hard to comprehend for companies riding the hype. The greatest compliment we ever had is that somebody apologized to us for thinking she had used our autonomous vehicles, but couldn’t remember for certain. That’s only possible when the journey is in line with the expectation: fast, as in short waiting times and short travel times. Which means the system should feature a high frequency and a good average speed.

The average speed for buses in inner cities has been constant at 18kph for years, although it is under pressure with congestion rising (which is why bus lanes are created). The manually operated bus thus sets the benchmark. You don’t have to be rocket scientist to realize this average speed is not achievable when the maximum speed of the vehicle is 15kph – regardless of the traffic encountered and the number of stops along the way. To achieve an average speed of 18kph, as required for the Brussels Airport Zaventem project, the top speed of the vehicle needs to be considerably higher. At least double. Which is what most autonomous shuttles claim, but almost all have yet demonstrate (including, or especially, the ones with the souped up videos).

Confusingly, an additional reason for the need for speed is safety. Everybody understands that with higher speeds, come higher risks. The speed should not be too fast (see, my granddad was a very wise man), but it should certainly not be too slow either. When introducing autonomous shuttles into mixed traffic, it is essential that their speed is similar to other vehicles on the road. A vehicle moving at 15kph, while all others are driving 30kph to 50kph, is not a good idea. Period. And exclamation mark. (nothing in parentheses). It is the reason why there is a minimum speed requirement for vehicles to be allowed on highways and pedestrians are on the sidewalk. For autonomous vehicles to be able operate on existing roads, the speeds of the different vehicles should be comparable. It is exactly why autonomous driving on highways is the first to come: all vehicles going relatively the same speed, same direction without intersections. 40kph (as shown in the demonstration at ITS Europe in Helmond) is a good starting point, a minimum top speed, for autonomous shuttles now, but eventually the speed should be increased to 50, 60 or perhaps even 80kph.

There is one ultimate reason for the need for speed though. Rod Tidwell said it best: ‘Show. Me. The. Money!’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1-mOKMq19zU). Or, if you want to phrase it in a way that sounds a lot better: value. You have to provide value to the passenger. Depending on the value that the passenger experiences, he’s going to be willing to pay for the service that is provided. Low speeds equal long travel times, low payments (low revenues) as well as more vehicles to meet the required capacity (higher costs). When the service is not attractive ridership is low as well. Conversely, higher speeds add value by shorter travel times, allowing for higher ride fares while lowering the costs and still attracting a higher ridership.

The business case is exactly why it appears the market is perpetually stuck in demonstrations or small, experimental applications with a limited amount of shuttles (1 or perhaps 2 or maybe 3). There is no business case, passengers aren’t required to pay for the ride, there are no other revenues and the number of users is low (5,000 people in a period of 6 months or so). Certainly it is possible to learn, but when/how do we learn to speed up the market development and the deployment of real, permanent applications?

Figuratively the need for speed

Newsflash: the market for autonomous shuttles is not new. It has been around since 1997 with the introduction of the first autonomous vehicles at Schiphol Airport. It certainly seemed to pick up steam (finally!) approximately 5 years ago with demonstrations of autonomous vehicles worldwide becoming more common. We are still in the same stage though and to avoid crashing the market needs to get moving. We need to kick the gears in motion and accelerate the introduction of autonomous vehicles. You gotta love the wordplay here…

The only way to speed up the maturation of the market is by showing the viability of autonomous vehicles as an everyday means of transit. One that has a financially viable business case by attracting passengers that are willing to pay for it. And reduces the costs by avoiding the need for a person on board of the vehicle – whether you call him/her the driver, safety steward, host or caretaker for that matter. It is so logical and simple it is odd it needs to be explained. There are plenty of these cases around, that’s certainly not the problem, so why aren’t these systems already on order?! It is the perceived commercial, technical and legislative risk.

Which is exactly why we are so happy with our new mother. The acquisition by a major automotive player is a very clear vote of confidence and precisely what the market needs. The move helps address the commercial and technical risk at the same time. Customers are taking notice and moving up their time frames for the projects. Where initially demonstrations where considered, cities now start to look at their current transit issues and which could be addressed by autonomous shuttles on a daily basis. With customers wanting to speed up their time frames, it increases the pressure on authorities to implement further and more clear requirements for the approval of operations of autonomous vehicles.

The market maturation is speeding up and the size is increasing. Pretty soon there won’t be a need to eat the whole pie to survive, but it will be possible to be content with a piece of the pie. We are a big eater though, so better get your share while you can.

Disclaimer: 2getthere’s blog is a podium to share opinions and views of our industry, products and everything related to it. And being Dutch, there’s one thing we are not shy of – having an opinion. Everybody’s got them, we just express them a little more directly. OK, a lot more directly. To the point that if you aren’t used to Dutch people being Dutch, you’d think we are plain blunt. Which is not our intent. Or sometimes it actually is, but in that case we just say we’re Dutch and couldn’t help ourselves…

This Blog has been started to provide a proper podium to share our opinion, with a little bit of humor along the way. The opinion shared is that of the author, not necessarily of the company, and is obviously completely objective and should be taken very very literally. Should you beg to differ on the view expressed, please don’t hesitate to engage and share this article with your thoughts on your social media channels: if there is one thing the Dutch appreciate it is a healthy debate – no sarcasm here.

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MoU signed for Nanyang Technological University

MOU-for-NTU-SingaporeSjoerd van der Zwaan, Chief Technology Officer

NTU has ample experience with autonomous vehicles and knows exactly what it wants and what it doesn’t want

2getthere signs MoU for NTU

Today, 2getthere, the Utrecht-based company specializing in autonomous transit systems, Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) and SMRT Services have joined forces to deploy fully automated Group Rapid Transit (GRT) autonomous vehicles (AV) on the NTU Smart Campus by 2019. The three parties signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) at a ceremony, paving the way for the GRT to be integrated into NTU’s transport network. The new GRTs will be tested on NTU’s campus in a few phases, which will start around the last quarter this year. The vehicles are expected to operate a service route that connects NTU’s halls of residences with the main academic areas, serving 200 to 300 passengers daily.

The 2getthere silent roadster uses magnetic pellets on the road for autonomous navigation and can travel in both directions. It has a top speed of 40 kilometres per hour and can ferry 24 passengers with seating space for eight. The collaboration will also involve conducting research to improve autonomous vehicle technologies such as increasing the use of artificial intelligence, developing advanced sensors and sensor fusion algorithms, and improving fleet management technologies. The trial would be gradually expanded campus-wide, running alongside other autonomous vehicles that have already been undergoing tests since 2012. This latest testbedding of autonomous vehicles is part of the university’s Smart Campus initiative to develop rapidly advancing transport technologies to benefit the NTU community and society.

NTU knows what it wants

Mr Sjoerd van der Zwaan, Chief Technology Officer of 2getthere, stated, “It is exciting to be able to work together with NTU and SMRT while capitalising on the synergy of an actual AV implementation and investing in research simultaneously. NTU has ample experience with autonomous vehicles and knows exactly what it wants and what it doesn’t want – in terms of availability, reliability, quality, safety and AV features such as comfort and user experience. In combination with SMRT’s operations expertise, all key ingredients are present to ensure a successful implementation of our AVs at NTU. We look forward to our continued cooperation.”

NTU President Professor Subra Suresh, said, “NTU’s campus is not only a living testbed for innovative technologies, but also the first to test driverless vehicles on Singapore roads. Autonomous vehicles are an integral part of the NTU Smart Campus vision, which leverages tech-enabled solutions to create better living and learning experiences. This new collaboration with SMRT and 2getthere highlights our goal of developing cutting-edge transport solutions that will benefit Singapore and beyond.”

Mr Desmond Kuek, President and Group CEO of SMRT, said, “NTU is a leading research institution in AV technology. SMRT is proud to work with NTU and 2getthere to deploy the first operational AV service in Singapore. This MoU marks the commitment of the three parties in leveraging the latest AV technology for our public transport system and redefine the standard for a world-class transport service.”

The GRT had undergone preliminary tests along a 350-metre route between two NTU halls of residences since November last year. During the trials, close to 4,000 passengers were ferried between the two stops.

Part of the joint MaaS testbed

The GRT was introduced to NTU as part of the Mobility-as-a-Service testbed, a collaboration between NTU, JTC and SMRT last September. The testbed seeks to integrate multiple modes of transport, including shuttle buses, bike sharing systems, e-scooters and e-bikes, and the autonomous GRT into a single mobility platform called jalan-jalan, developed by mobilityX to improve connectivity and travel within NTU’s campus and JTC’s CleanTech Park in Jurong Innovation District, which will be the largest living lab in Singapore. Jalan-jalan is a Malay term for ‘going for a walk’.

The smartphone application jalan-jalan received strong support during its pilot run between NTU’s campus and JTC’s CleanTech Park from last August. Just for e-scooters alone, the app was used to book over 67,000 trips, clocking a total mileage of over 80,000 kilometres.

Edward Lim Xun Qian, President of NTU’s Student Union, said, “The app allows a seamless and convenient way to travel around NTU’s large campus, right from our halls to our classes. Not only does it help us book Personal Mobility Devices such as e-scooters, the app is also integrated with public and shuttle buses around campus, providing an all-in-one transport solution for students.”

Colin Lim, mobilityX CEO said, “The NTU and CTP community have a greater range of transport options, and have experienced improved connectivity through innovative first-and-last mile transport solutions like the AV and scooter and bicycle sharing. For example, the utilisation rate of each scooter at approximately 20 trips/day is one of the highest in Singapore.”

Glory Wee, Director, Aerospace, Marine and Urban Solutions, JTC said, “We are delighted by the positive response from the CleanTech Park community on the trial. Urban solutions, such as Mobility-as-a-Service, help us improve the travel experience of the communities in JTC’s estates and lay the foundation for next-generation connectivity and mobility infrastructure in our new estates.”

Currently serving 12 stops on NTU’s campus and the CleanTech Park area, the app will gradually include more stops and manage more mobility options based on users’ feedback and test results.

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Regulations Required: safety drives autonomous vehicles market (whitepaper)

Regulation-Required-Safety-Drives-Autonomous-Vehicles-MarketSjoerd van der Zwaan, Chief Technology Officer

Governments must demand from manufacturers that they are able to prove their products are safe

Regulations required

Authorities will have to introduce strict regulations to ensure the safe introduction of autonomous vehicles on public roads. By doing so, they can also speed up the adoption, says 2getthere, the Utrecht-based company specializing in autonomous transit systems, in a whitepaper published today, named Safety in Autonomous Transit. The whitepaper says authorities should set stricter conditions regarding road safety, reliability and availability of vehicles and also for the spatial planning of public areas where autonomous vehicles operate. Stricter regulations will most likely result in a shakeout in the supply side of the autonomous transit market.

It is becoming common for autonomous vehicles to leave their testing facilities behind in favour of public roads. Unfortunately this also leads to an increase in the number of accidents. In order to guarantee passenger safety, 2getthere says governments will have to set stricter requirements for manufacturers of autonomous vehicles. More concretely, this means that a level of safety will have to be defined which manufacturers must be able to guarantee – both on paper and in practical tests in a controlled environment. Designs should be tested for road safety by independent assessors, who should also be tasked with the assessment of public areas and traffic situations in which autonomous vehicles will be operated.

The whitepaper claims that a step-by-step approach is the most logical choice to ensure the introduction of autonomous vehicles on public roads in a manner that guarantees the safety of passengers as well as the environment. 2getthere’s experts refer to examples where autonomous vehicles are already being deployed successfully in more or less controlled environments such as airports, campuses and amusement parks. The company says the first step is to introduce autonomous vehicles in relatively controlled environments, where the number and complexity of possible interactions with other traffic can be limited.

Read and download the white paper: 2getthere whitepaper Regulations Required – Safety drives autonomous vehicles market

A shakeout is imminent

2getthere estimates that it will take ten years or more before autonomous vehicles will dominate the public road. There is a lot of distance to cover from ‘successful demonstration’ to ‘large-scale everyday mobility solution’, says Sjoerd van der Zwaan, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of 2getthere. ‘Governments must demand from manufacturers that they are able to prove their products are safe – and they must set concrete requirements regarding reliability, availability and safety. This includes tasking the assessment of products and their application to independent bodies, such as the RDW (Netherlands Vehicle Authority) in the Netherlands. Manufacturers may see this as a challenge, but it’s a necessary step, considering the responsibility they carry in the transportation of people and the introduction of autonomous vehicles in the public area. It’s the only way to prevent unnecessary incidents.’

A call for stricter regulations will most likely result in a shakeout in the supply side of the market, says 2getthere’s Chief Commercial Officer (CCO) Robbert Lohmann: ‘In this whitepaper we conclude that the industry is a long way away from making autonomous vehicles that are as safe in mixed traffic as, for instance, city buses with professional drivers. We believe it remains to be seen if all manufacturers currently in the market have the commitment for the long haul, or the knowledge and expertise to take the necessary steps.’

Pragmatic approach

Lohmann believes the same applies to the demand side. He says: ‘Stricter requirements will increase the cost of the introduction of autonomous vehicles. Higher cost levels will cause municipal governments to shift their focus from yet more demonstrations to permanent and commercially viable solutions. In the short term, this may seem to slow down the market introduction, but in fact it will speed up the actual utilization of autonomous vehicles. For this reason, we suggest taking a pragmatic approach, in which autonomous vehicles are first introduced in semi-controlled environments before we take the step of deploying them in fully uncontrolled environments.’

He continues: ‘We will have to build up practical experience with operational systems that carry large numbers of passengers, such as those recently made possible in the Netherlands by the introduction of new legislation (the ‘Experimenteerwet’) that regulates fully autonomous vehicles operating in mixed traffic . If at this moment we are able to introduce autonomous vehicles in a controlled manner, this will contribute to road safety in cities.’

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Prototype 3rd generation autonomous vehicles on the move

Prototype-shippingRobbert Lohmann, Chief Operations Officer, 2getthere

“The GRT is sure to impress with its looks, technology and performance. It is simply the most mature autonomous vehicle available.”

Prototype Driverless Vehicle

Today a special flight departed from Schiphol Airport to Asia. Dutch technology firm 2getthere placed a newly developed prototype driverless vehicle vehicle (GRT) on transport to Singapore. The prototype driverless vehicle carries passengers autonomously, without the intervention of a driver or steward. In the future, the vehicle will also serve Bluewaters Island in Dubai and Rivium business park in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is ensuring it is the focus of attention with regards to autonomous vehicles internationally. The GRT vehicle is a creation of the Utrecht technology firm 2getthere, specializing in the development of solutions in the field of autonomous transport. The third generation vehicle will be used for demonstrations at various locations in Singapore, including the Kim Chuan Depot (KCD) and Nanyang Technical University. This is done on behalf of 2getthere Asia, a joint venture between 2getthere and Singapore’s public transport company SMRT, also a shareholder of the Dutch company.

The new GRT is designed by the renowned automotive designer Zagato from Milan (known for unique car designs for Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Maserati, Ferrari and Aston Martin). With a length of 6 meters, width of 2.1 meters and height of 2.8 meters, the GRT accommodates up to 24. The vehicle is based on the latest technological developments, with the battery for example charging from 30% to 80% in just 10 minutes.

World First

The new GRT is intended to be deployed in Dubai in the future, where 2getthere has obtained a large contract for autonomous public transport to Bluewaters Island.

In addition, the vehicle will also be driving in the Netherlands: 2getthere is also the company behind the Parkshuttle in Capelle aan den IJssel. This cooperation was extended earlier this year, with the deployment of the new GRT featuring a world first for 2getthere and the municipality of Capelle: the first fully autonomous system on the public road, in permanent operation and without steward.

Autonomous transport solutions based on technology and systems developed by 2getthere are cost-effective, in addition to environmentally friendly. Compared with traditional rail-based solutions, savings can be made of 50% on infrastructure and maintenance. For this reason, self-propelled transportation systems are very suitable for medium-sized airports, business campuses (up to 50,000 employees) and entertainment parks.

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