Harsh weather no bar to successful Finnish self-driving pilot

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Finnish self-driving technology company Sensible 4 has carried out a successful autonomous driving pilot in Tampere, Finland, despite the worst and most challenging winter conditions in years.

The pilot, which started in January and lasted for two and a half months, aimed to see how autonomous vehicles work with public transportation networks and collect feedback from users. Two self-driving Toyota Proace vehicles were used as feeder traffic for the tram trunk line in a suburb of Tampere — a city aiming to pioneer smart city development. The passenger feedback collected was mainly positive and focused on improving accessibility for people with disabilities.

“The self-driving vehicles ran smoothly and felt safe. In the future, I see these kinds of vehicles complementing the public transportation system for certain routes and amounts of passengers. We still need more testing to make sure the reliability in production use, and that the service either brings cost-saving in the areas they are being used or gives better service level to the population with the same costs,” said Mika Kulmala, project manager, City of Tampere.

The pilot was a part of the EU-funded SHOW project, with an aim to find out how autonomous vehicles could work as a part of urban transportation in the future. The project’s national coordinator Pekka Eloranta from Sitowise was satisfied with the results of the winter trial. “We got a good amount of passengers to try and test the service, even some regular customers. Also, we were able to collect feedback, for example, concerning accessibility. This aspect is important to take into account to be able to provide service to all user groups in the future,” she said.

Jussi Suomela, CBO of Sensible 4, said, “This pilot was valuable for understanding the customer and end-user needs better, including especially the accessibility aspects. The weather was exceptionally snowy but the software and vehicles performed well and we were able to collect important test data of the extreme conditions and experience of the challenging weather.”

The vehicles were driven in extreme cold, as the temperature dropped from time to time below -20C. At other times temperature variation above and below 0°C caused the road to be slippery. Heavy snowfalls covered the lane markings and the ploughing brought high piles of snow along the route. “Of course, in Finland snowing is everyday life in the wintertime. This time it reached almost an extreme level as there were piles of snow on the way and snowploughs had a hard time keeping the roads open,” noted Suomela.

Sensible 4 will continue operating pilots later this year in Norway, Switzerland, Japan and Germany.

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Lawrence has been covering engineering subjects – with a focus on motorsport technology – since 2007 and has edited and contributed to a variety of international titles. Currently, he is responsible for content across UKI Media & Events' portfolio of websites while also writing for the company's print titles.

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