Autonomous People Mover — How far is the technology?
A first answer based on the Navya shuttle in Neuhausen
Autonomous people mover vehicles are currently growing like mushrooms after a rain. Many firms are presenting their concepts and road-ready vehicles. Even at last year’s CES in Las Vegas, this new type of local transportation was among the key technologies.
The Navya shuttle in Neuhausen, Switzerland celebrated its first birthday last year. We came to congratulate, took a few rounds in the vehicle and analyzed how far the technology really is.
We have three key observations to share:
- Pedestrians and irrational breaking are still an issue
On the short 500 meter circular route the people mover crosses 10 crosswalks. When approaching these, the control driver regularly breaks manually and preemptively to ensure unambiguous behavior. According to our research, if the vehicle performed the breaking autonomously, it would break later and more pronounced which led to an unpleasant experience for people both outside and inside the vehicle. If pedestrians approach from the left, it is exclusively the control driver performing the breaking, as the vehicle has difficulties distinguishing these pedestrians across the street from other objects on a larger distance.
In addition, and especially in wet conditions, we observe regular problems with the sensors causing irrational breaking. These can be quite pronounced and shook us more than once. Especially with falling leaves and larger wet areas on the street, the vehicle performs breaks without an obvious reason.
- True autonomy is something else
Given the route, and the general performance, the vast majority of the rides are not free of disengagements or preemptive breaking by the control driver. While a fully autonomous turn is theoretically possible on a dry day with zero pedestrians on the road, the reality still requires a control driver with his fancy gaming console controller (And yes… L2 is for breaking).
- The public is curious and generally positive
Despite the technical issues described above, the public is curious to take one of the cost-free rides. Given the low top speed of 25 km/h and the presence of a very active and cautious control driver, people of all age express that they feel safe in the vehicle. With an additional digital display providing more information at the starting point of the route, this and many other projects provide an important opportunity for early interaction with the future of autonomous driving. Considering the discussions around public acceptance and adoption rates, such projects should not be underestimate. Given the many tourists visiting the Rhine falls in close vicinity, this venue is a good spot to make as many people as possible interact with this new type of short distance transportation.