Autonomous vehicles: Expect up to 50 driverless buses on Oslo streets by 2021

Norway's capital is starting a pilot project for real-life testing of a fleet of autonomous buses.

Ruter, the mass-transit company for the Oslo metropolitan area, is about to start testing autonomous buses in the Norwegian capital.

Its recently signed agreement with Danish company Autonomous Mobility involves several pilot schemes and, in the longer run, tests of a fleet of up to 50 vehicles.

The partners aim to introduce autonomous vehicles gradually and in the process learn about customer needs. At the same time, they want to develop demand for new mobility services in the city.

In the bigger picture, this initiative will also contribute to Oslo's ambitions for greener transport and fewer traffic accidents.

Ruter says detailed plans are being worked on with the goal of having autonomous vehicles in traffic as soon as possible, and that means early 2019 at the latest.

The partners have a three-year horizon and they've already started planning specific routes, which will need approval from the authorities.

"We see great potential for implementing ambitious pilot projects, where we can test different usage scenarios and develop self-driving operations -- even in more challenging weather conditions than we're used to," Peter Sorgenfrei, Autonomous Mobility CEO, said in a statement.

SEE: Tech and the future of transportation (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Ruter CEO Bernt Reitan is well known in Norway for having ambitious plans for mass transit in Oslo.

His sardonic view of traditional bus transport has been: "Our current business model is transporting people from locations where they aren't, to places that are not their destination."

To solve that misalignment, his vision is to have small autonomous vehicles circulating between neighborhoods and bus stops, as feeder services for the regular bus lines.

In the longer term he sees on-demand transport provided by autonomous vehicles, offering services where and when people need them.

However, current Norwegian legislation puts severe limits on operations with autonomous vehicles on public roads.

Among the restrictions are a speed limit of 12kph, or 7.5mph, a maximum load of six passengers, and a requirement to have an employee on board at all times to operate a manual brake if necessary.

These rules will obviously dictate where the pilot testing can take place in the city, because they effectively rule out autonomous buses on fast or heavily trafficked roads.

In May, Mass-transit company Kolumbus in Stavanger, southwestern Norway, won the first license granted in Scandinavia to run an autonomous bus service on some of the city's public roads.

Elsewhere in Europe, an autonomous bus called Èrica is being tested around the Catalan region of Spain to help citizens become familiar with what driverless technology entails.

ruter-autonomousmobility.jpg

Current Norwegian laws severely limit operations with autonomous vehicles on public roads.

Image: Ruter/Autonomous Mobility

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