Cybernetic chauffeurs debut in Las Vegas

Driverless, electric, and seamlessly connected: robotic shuttles will soon be a common sight on our city streets, according to automotive supplier Bosch. While the German firm may be better known for its fuel injection systems or common-rail diesel technology, Bosch is making a name for itself as a leader in digital communication and internet-of-things (IoT) systems. Its Mobility Solutions group, which accounted for EUR47.4 billion sales in 2017, pursues a vision of mobility that is, according to the firm, “accident-free, emissions-free, and stress-free, and combines the group’s expertise in the domains of automation, electrification, and connectivity.”

Bosch is presenting its solutions at CES 2019 in Las Vegas, the world’s biggest electronics show. The concept shuttles feature a light, airy, minimalistic design, a futuristic outer shell made of display screens and glass, and a spacious interior – the driverless pods glide almost silently through the city streets and are connected with all aspects of their environment, from the weather to road conditions.

Bosch IoT shuttle visualised at CES 2019

China to dominate shuttle market

The emergence of the shuttle segment is a result of rising demand for ridesharing services: in Europe, the US and China alone, about one million such on-demand shuttle buses will be on the roads as early as next year, growing to 2.5 million by 2025, according to a report by Roland Berger. China, says the report, is showing remarkable growth: leading ride-sharing company Didi Chuxing provides an average of 25 million rides a day, and current estimates are that ridesharing represented 20 per cent of total consumer transportation in the country in 2018, compared to less than 1 per cent in 2015. “This exponential growth is due to a widespread lack of mobility, the result of China’s limited public transit capacity, insufficient taxi services and restrictions on the number of license plates issued for privately owned vehicles,” says the report. “Indeed, Roland Berger estimates that approximately 40 per cent of demand for licensed taxi services in China is currently unfulfilled, met instead by unlicensed taxis and public transit where available.”

Many on-demand vehicles will be completely autonomous by the middle of the next decade at the latest, according to Bosch’s vision. The concept shuttle visualised at CES2019 is packed with the appropriate technology – from electric powertrains and 360-degree surround sensors to connectivity management and vehicle computers. For automation, Bosch develops and makes its own radar, video, and ultrasonic sensors, braking control systems, and power steering. Predictive road-condition services let automated vehicles know in advance what environmental conditions to expect: hey can thus adapt their driving style as needed so as to ensure maximum safety throughout the journey. The Bosch “road signature” is a map-based localisation service with which automated vehicles can accurately determine their position in the lane down to a few centimetres – another crucial prerequisite for the safety of automated shuttles.

Yet these components and systems go only part of the way towards shuttle mobility. To make on-demand vehicles suitable for flexible everyday use, they must be connected to mobility services.

Booking and sharing

As ridesharers of 2018 might expect, users will be able to easily book a shuttle via smartphone. Working behind the scenes, an algorithm will identify the vehicle closest to the requested location and finds other users who wish to travel a similar route. The more passengers a single shuttle can transport, the cheaper the journey for everyone. This approach also reduces the amount of traffic in cities and mitigates the impact on the environment.

Not much here is surprising: but features which make the process better for passengers include the company’s camera-based system for the vehicle interior checks whether anyone has forgotten their phone or handbag. If a passenger does forget something, the shuttle informs them directly via smartphone. The cameras can also detect gum on the seat or an overturned coffee cup – in other words, whether the shuttle needs cleaning – and can make the necessary arrangements immediately. This is so every passenger can start their journey in a clean shuttle.

 

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