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Residents of the Weiherfeld-Dammerstock district of Karlsruhe are already familiar with them: autonomously operating, emission-free mini-buses that drive to the desired stop on demand. As early as mid-2021, the automated vehicles, called EVA shuttles, were already making their mark on the streetscape of the neighborhood. The mini-buses interacted largely autonomously with all other road users, from pedestrians to heavy goods vehicles. Now the smart mobiles have returned to the Karlsruhe test area as FZI shuttles. As part of the EU project SHOW (SHared automation Operating models for Worldwide adoption), the vehicles will be on the road from December 16, primarily in technical research mode, once again accompanied by trained safety drivers from the Karlsruhe Transport Authority (VBK), so that they can intervene immediately in particularly critical situations. Right from the start of the project phase, passers-by had the opportunity, at least on weekends, to signal their interest in a ride to the safety driver by a simple hand signal. At the beginning of the new year, the system switched to the already familiar and convenient on-demand operation. For this purpose, the shuttles can simply be called via smartphone app to one of 22 virtual stops. The vehicles offer space for up to five passengers, and the entrances are barrier-free, so transporting wheelchairs or strollers should not be a problem.

Further development of the successful EVA trial

In contrast to the EVA Shuttle of 2021, which was partly based on components from project partners at the time, the highly automated driving function of the current mini-buses this time comes entirely from the Research Center for Information Technology at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (FZI). "The findings from the EVA Shuttle project provide us with an excellent basis for further developing the vehicles' highly automated driving function and ensuring an even better user experience," explains Prof. J. Marius Zöllner, board member of the FZI. "We are excited to bring a piece of the future to the road for self-experience. In addition to the research aspect, real-world operation is a great way to respond to concerns and skepticism about automated vehicles and provide tangible insights into development."

Responsible parties welcome autonomous driving services

For Dr. Alexander Pischon, Managing Director of Verkehrsbetriebe Karlsruhe, the shuttles also represent an important piece of the puzzle for the mobility of the future: "Autonomous driving will fundamentally change our mobility in the coming years. Driverless shuttles and on-demand transport based on demand offer great potential for a climate-friendly traffic turnaround. This will enable us to close the gap in the last mile between the front door and the bus stop, thus further increasing the attractiveness of public transport."

Rail is also on board

The app for booking the shuttle is provided by project partner ioki, a Deutsche Bahn startup. It can be used to order the mini-buses to the stops in Weiherfeld-Dammerstock from Friday to Sunday from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. via smartphone. The neighborhood was once again chosen for the test operation due to its ideally suited location and infrastructure. Above all, the high density of speed 30 zones suits the research project.

Promoting sustainable urban mobility

The SHOW project is funded by the European Commission as part of the EU's Horizon 2020 program. It aims to support the use of shared, connected and electrified automation in urban transport to promote sustainable urban mobility. During the project, real-world urban demonstrations will take place in 20 cities across Europe, exploring the integration of fleets of automated vehicles with public transport and its special forms such as Demand Responsive Transport (DRT), Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and Logistics as a Service (LaaS). Further information on the project is available at www.fzi.de/project/show.