A self-driving shuttle bus operated by De Lijn is performing demo trips at Brussels Airport, Belgium, for three days this week to gauge how its technology performs in a real-life environment.
Driverless vehicles typically drive in their own dedicated lanes at airports. The Brussels pilot, however, is unusual in that its intention is for the self-driving shuttle to navigate autonomously through mixed traffic.
The self-driving electric bus follows virtual routes which it uses to continuously calculate its position. Deviations from the planned route are corrected on the basis of artificial reference points. The vehicles are also equipped with sensors for detecting other objects in their vicinity.
De Lijn and Brussels Airport Company plan to launch an autonomous shuttle service between the airport terminal and the cargo business zone and parking areas in 2021. People movers will be deployed to provide a high-frequency service. The shuttle is intended to run independently at an average speed of 20km/h (12.5mph) over a short, fixed route equipped with magnets and sensors. The magnets are located in the ground and act as beacons that indicate the way. The sensors are built into the bus, to detect other objects in the vicinity. Local modifications may be needed to reduce traffic complexity.
Test rides will be conducted on-site at the Utrecht base of the manufacturer, 2getthere, to test the technology, which will be further developed based on the results. Over the course of 2020, additional testing will take place in mixed traffic, in the Brucargo business zone. The test rides will be carried out without passengers, with a steward on board, and are intended to test the bus operation in all weather conditions and traffic scenarios.
If these tests are successful, the passenger system can be further expanded, and the dispatch center, bus stop interfaces and charging stations incorporated. The aim is to then operate the people movers without a steward, instead monitoring their progress from a dispatch center. Passenger transportation is expected to commence mid-2021.
“Intelligent mobility is one of our strategic priorities for sustainable development over the coming years,” said Brussels Airport Company CEO Arnaud Feist. “We want to encourage passengers and employees to increasingly travel to the airport by public transport. This joint project with De Lijn, which commenced in 2015, is one of the initiatives specifically aimed at achieving this objective. We’re now exploring how self-driving buses can be deployed to improve the efficiency of passenger transport on the airport grounds.”