The mercury was rising Friday when Frank Horch, Senator for Transport and Henrik Falk, CEO of Hamburger Hochbahn and presented the HEAT (Hamburg Electric Autonomous Transportation) project at a press conference in the Automuseum Prototype HafenCity. From early 2019, driverless e-shuttles will be integrated into bustling traffic in a test area in HafenCity as part of the latest research and development project.
Project to be implemented gradually from 2018-2021
HEAT will examine the integration of autonomous shuttles in real traffic and how this can be developed and implemented. The vehicles will travel at speeds of up to 50 km/h to avoid becoming traffic obstructions. The first phase will start in spring 2019 on a fixed route with a test run without passengers and with a professional vehicle attendant, who can intervene immediately, if necessary. In the following phase, passengers will be taken aboard and with an attendant. While the overall goal is to prove that autonomous minibuses can be used in public transport, hopes are high that an entirely autonomous operation will be in place before the ITS World Congress gets underway in Hamburg in 2021.
Six partners developing alternative to private cars
Overall responsibility for the project lies with Hamburger Hochbahn who will work hand in hand with six partners including the Ministry of Science, Transport and Innovation, Siemens and IAV automotive engineering. Commenting on the project, Falk told reporters: “Autonomous vehicles will shape tomorrow’s mobility. Hochbahn intends to seize the opportunities offered by this technology and develop attractive offers that make private car use superfluous, at least in the city centres. Together with our partners, we are opening the door to innovative solutions.” An environment-friendly and sustainable vehicle concept is crucial in cities, said Udo Wehner, Head of Vehicle Integrated Function at IAV.
Three vehicles – 16 passengers each
The minibus developed by IAV is about 5 metres long, 2 meters wide, 2.6 meters high and weighs about 4 tons. Each vehicle can accommodate a maximum of 16 sixteen passengers (ten seats and six standing places) and is barrier-free. The first vehicle is expected to arrive in Hamburg before late 2018. The research and development project foresees three vehicles at present. The batteries for the electric drive will be charged at Vattenfall in HafenCity. Before the minibuses can take to the roads, the vehicles must be fitted out with software, cameras and radar and the route has to be lined with sensors and monitored by Hamburger Hochbahn’s control room.
Innovative test area in HafenCity
The 3.6 kilometre test route with nine stops (six existing and three new stops) for the zero-emission electric buses will run near the Elbphilharmonie. The pilot tests have been phased to gain experience about extending the route and raising the degree of automation and speed. However, the offer will not replace regular bus routes.
Focus on passengers
The present legal framework does not yet cover autonomous driving. Asked about this situation, Falk said: “We are entering completely new territory. The HEAT project will do pioneering work in this respect, as it will show how autonomous vehicles can be registered properly and safely. The Institute for Climate Protection, Energy and Mobility (IKEM) is providing legal support for the project. However, the focus of the programme is on both passengers and technology. As project partner, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt) is carrying out accompanying research to determine user requirements and to gain tips on designing the vehicles and traffic services.
Next step – expanding infrastructure
Following Hamburg’s successful application for funds from the “Renewable Mobile” programme by the German Ministry for the Environment in 2017, the city is investing a total EUR 5.2 million of which EUR 2.7 million is being put up by the Ministry of Economics, Transport and Innovation (BWVI), the Landesbetrieb Straßen, Brücken und Gewässer (LSBG) and Hamburg Verkehrsanlagen (HHVA). Hamburger HOCHBAHN will receive around EUR 1 million as project manager and the company will contribute EUR 1.5 million from its own funds. Preparations to expand the infrastructure will start in the coming months. The shuttle ride will be free.
Hamburg – a model of mobility solutions
The HEAT project is a major part of Hamburg’s ITS strategy, which is driving modern mobility solutions ahead. Commenting on the plans, Horch remarked: “Hamburg will host the World Congress for Intelligent Transport Systems in 2021. By then, the link between digitalisation and mobility should be gradually visible and tangible across the city. Public transport companies are to act as drivers of this development. Offers like HEAT focus on an improved traffic flow through fewer, but unlike private cars – better used vehicles. They are emission-free, which helps us to improve air quality and reduce noise at the same time”. In the run-up to ITS, projects such as the e-shuttle, ride pooling service MOIA and autonomous parking at the airport per app have also been launched.