The concept combines Mobileye’s self-driving system with the Lohr Group’s i-Cristal electric shuttle and Transdev’s mobility service networks. “The collaboration between Transdev ATS, Mobileye and Lohr Group is set to provide fully industrialised autonomous shuttles at scale to support the urban autonomous vision,” according to Marie-José Navarre, vice president of Lohr Group. “Our common goal is to quickly provide to clients autonomous shuttles that could be easily and efficiently implemented in cities.”
The target market is initially Europe, aiming for production by 2022 and deployment in public transport services by 2023.
As a shuttle their concept is similar to existing offers from Navya and Easymile. The shuttle will take up to 16 passengers, is fully electric and has space for a wheelchair. Where it differs is in the promise of an operational speed of 50km/h with the possibility to reach 70km/h in the future.
From the pictures of the i-Cristal and its predecessor it is not clear how the passengers would fare in a crash at speeds of 50km/h. If there are no surprises hidden in the frame of the shuttle, this implies that i-Cristal will operate at speeds closer to those of the competition. On the same market. This raises questions if the market for autonomous shuttles is about to expand, or does the i-Cristal have a unique selling point not yet revealed?
The two major OEMs in terms of providers of autonomous shuttles on the European market, Navya and EasyMile, have enjoyed an initial period of little or no competition. It seems there are now enough campuses and business parks that demand this service to accommodate a new actor. But it doesn’t seem like this new offering will push the boundaries for what autonomous shuttles could provide for public transport, unless the i-Cristal somehow lives up to the 50km/h operating speed. That would be a game-changer for the autonomous shuttle business.
A parallel development is taking place by the introduction of crash-worthy and autonomous vehicles from the traditional OEMs, such as Volkswagen’s ID.BUZZ and Toyota’s partnership with Denso and Aurora to deliver robotaxis. The Spanish bus manufacturer Irizar have also started operations in Malaga with a 12-metre autonomous city bus. As vehicles like these hit the market it will shift the focus from crash-worthiness towards the capability of the autonomous system, since both need to be aligned to enable higher speeds.
Another point of interest is that Transdev have already run operations using vehicles from both competitors Navya and EasyMile in Linköping, Sweden. Is the new partnership coming at the expense of furthering those existing collaborations? And are we witnessing how the operator Transdev is becoming confident enough to manage fleets of autonomous vehicles where the specific brand is less important than the service it enables? Substituting the shuttle suppliers’ fleet management system with Transdev’s own solution would give Transdev a leg up in the value chain’s pecking order. With shuttles being just another kind of vehicle to procure, like city or inter-state buses, this would provide Transdev with flexibility as well as negotiating power when it comes to procurement. At least until someone delivers a shared mobility solution capable of reasonably safe and autonomous operations at higher speeds.
Written by Håkan Burden,
RISE Mobility & Systems (Mobilitet i transformation)