29 February 2024
Máxima MC: a showcase of excellence for Brainport region during King’s visit
Interview with Jeroen van der Werf of VDL ETS, partner of the DITM project. DITM stands for Digital Infrastructure for Future-Proof Mobility, a national project, which is funded by the Dutch government. As part of the project, Brainport Development and RAI Automotive Industries are working with partner companies to implement the digital infrastructure for automated transport. Enabling us to organize our mobility in a more efficient and safe way. We focus, among others, on innovative digital map production systems that produce, and update maps based on the road infrastructure’s continuous sensor observations and the increasing number of "smart" vehicles on the road.
As the name suggests, DITM’s focus is on digital. We believe that we can add value by connecting the vehicle to current traffic and road information and to information regarding any moving objects that are outside the direct field of vision. We are conducting such a test in house, so we can accurately simulate certain situations.
The second use case is about automatically stopping the bus. When a bus runs according to a timetable, the bus driver follows the bus stops on the route. We can largely automate the arrival at those bus stops, allowing the bus to stop at an exact point, making it easier for passengers to get on and off. With the proper automation feature, we can even prevent small damages that sometimes occur when driving manually. We believe that this feature adds great value in terms of comfort and safety for both driver and passenger. With respect to this development, the driver still has to drive the bus, but they will be maximally supported when executing the related tasks.
The third use case is about bus platooning. Meaning that several buses are driving in a row, with the first bus being manned by a driver followed by the other buses, which are navigating autonomously. The bus will communicate with the traffic lights to request the correct priority and will receive information regarding the remaining time until the traffic light turns red or green (Green Light Optimal Speed Advisory- GLOSA). This solution allows for transport capacity to be increased when needed, without having to increase the number of employees, alleviating the burden caused by a shortage of drivers. We do not test this on the road however, but in a simulation. Simulations help us get the most out of our research, because we can accurately introduce various scenarios, such as busy intersections, to research the behavior of vehicles and people.
Autonomous Yard Maneuvering will enable us to deploy employees more efficiently. If buses can independently navigate through the depot, you can use the freed-up workforce to provide bus services, the basic activity of a public transport company. Allowing you to reduce the costs and provide better services to the consumer. But we are even looking beyond this project. If we further extend automation, we can even organize bus transport at locations where this is currently not profitable. For example, on routes that are being cancelled, because there are too little passengers. Or to villages with a lack of demand for public transport, causing a reduction in the means of public transport on offer. A reduced offer also causes a reduction in demand. When drivers are no longer needed, we may still be able to offer a cost-efficient regular bus service, thus improving accessibility.
In urban areas, we are dealing with major peaks in public transport demand during rush hours. We cannot respond to these peaks by increasing the number of employees, because we are suffering from a lack of drivers. The innovations we are working on as part of DITM, can help increase the number of transport operations. Allowing passengers to also travel more efficiently and comfortably in urban areas, making it easier to switch from car to public transport. Maybe we can use smaller vehicles that run more frequently, reducing waiting time.
DITM allows me to be involved in things I do not normally come across. We come up with solutions that are completely new, so standard system components do not yet exist. We are anticipating the future and are learning what kind of product lines we have to develop in a few years’ time. This gives us the opportunity to look at the possibilities and impossibilities of certain technological developments in a different way, and in much more detail. DITM also focuses on using radio beacons for positioning. A kind of GPS, only without satellite reception, so you can determine the location of the vehicle in a different way. This technology looks promising, but we only know if it truly works when using it. I closely follow the developments of consortium members’ researchers and developers, making it easier to understand all the ins and outs of such a technology.
Freight transport is also facing an acute lack of drivers. When carriers can use an autonomous transport or platooning system, they can grow without being restricted by the current shortage in staff. This also makes it easier to transport freight outside peak hours. It is easier to have an autonomous truck wait during peak hours than to ask a driver to wait. This allows us to organize transportation in a more sustainable way without having to build new roads.
I personally believe that it will take a while before we can realize autonomous transport on public roads at a large scale. Whether this is feasible also depends on the political landscape because current infrastructure is not yet suitable and current regulations do not yet provide for autonomous transportation. All attention is currently focused on the high fuel prices, nitrogen pollution, energy transition and on emission-free driving. Themes like these dominate the political landscape and our everyday lives. Vehicle manufacturers use the larger projects to switch from diesel or fossil fuels to hydrogen or electric transportation. As a result, the subject we are currently working on doesn’t have top priority. I believe that in ten years’ time the small-scale implementations we are doing today will lead to large-scale use of these innovations.
If we continue to grow, we need to work with various parties to get this innovation on the road. Autonomous Yard Maneuvering is done behind the fences. Ultimately, we want to take autonomous transport to the public road. So, I would like to get in touch with parties who can help us achieve this. We want to jointly create a roadmap, as this is not a small experiment. If we can define the necessary steps jointly with various governmental bodies, we will be able to bring autonomous driving to the public road in a proper way. Legislation is already in place for test routes on public roads and we can contact the Netherlands Vehicle Authority to apply for an exemption. But it is still uncertain whether we will succeed and receive government support. Any parties that can help us in this respect are more than welcome to contact me.
And finally, we are also interested in meeting with product suppliers. We are working with many knowledge and research parties, such as TNO and TU Eindhoven. They have incredibly smart people who come up with products and models and often create first prototypes. The Tier 1 suppliers will use the technologies developed to create these prototypes for new products. So, we also need suppliers who can ultimately deliver the new components that are needed for these new products.
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