The ‘See-Meile’ project: your questions, our answers

What’s the project timeline?
Before public services started, we carried out test runs without passengers. In the process, the routes were input into the vehicles and attendants prepared for the route. Passenger services began in summer 2021. Anyone interested can use the vehicles free of charge up until summer 2022.

Which vehicles are being used?
EasyMile EZ 10 Gen3 vehicles are being used on the project. These vehicles are highly automated shuttles. They cannot yet deal autonomously with all traffic situations (avoiding obstacles, overtaking) and run along a ‘learned’ (i.e. programmed) route. This route can only be deviated from in manual mode, i.e. by the attendant. During the course of the project, the vehicles run at a maximum speed of 15 km/h. They can seat six persons and are wheelchair-accessible (automatic ramps and wheelchair restraining devices). A buggy can also be brought on board. There are no steps in the vehicle interior, which also features air-conditioning and heating. An attendant is on board every shuttle bus at all times to ensure smooth running of the service, assist passengers with reduced mobility, and take over control if necessary. Stop announcements are made in the vehicles and both the route and its stops are shown on screens. The shuttles are also equipped with an ‘acoustic vehicle alerting system’ (AVAS), which is a warning system for low-noise, especially electric, vehicles. It generates an artificial noise to draw road users’ attention to the vehicle.

Who is the operator of the shuttles?
The shuttles and the two circular routes are operated by the Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG).

How is safety being ensured?
The vehicles are equipped with several lidar sensors and brought to a stop if they detect obstacles within a set range. The vehicles also employ a defensive driving style and react extremely cautiously, braking in all potentially dangerous situations. The on-board attendants further monitor the vehicle and, when necessary, assist passengers getting on and off. All passengers must sit while the shuttle is moving. Only the attendants may stand. The vehicle doors have an auto-reverse mechanism to prevent persons or objects getting caught. If the doors are obstructed, the vehicle cannot close them and continue its journey.

What will happen to the service/the shuttles at the end of the project?
At the end of the passenger service, the project partners will evaluate the results of the research project. Whether the shuttles or the service in Tegel remain operational depends on this evaluation. All of the partners are, in principle, interested in offering services of this type in the longer term.

Do the vehicles respond to traffic signs?
Not yet, but the technology is constantly evolving. The exact routes, the traffic rules on the routes, and the correct responses to different traffic situations are programmed into the vehicles.

Are operations dependent on the weather?
Understanding precisely how the technology reacts to different weather conditions is a key part of the trial. Over the project period, the buses are therefore operating in all conditions.

Can the vehicles depart from their route?
The routes are programmed in the vehicle’s computer before it enters service; the vehicles therefore cannot deviate from their routes. The programming tells the vehicles how to navigate their set routes. When they detect an obstacle, the vehicles automatically brake. At present, it is not able to deviate significantly from the route to bypass obstacles; in such cases, the attendant must take over control of the vehicle.

Can a shuttle like this go anywhere?
Operations are possible where the local conditions meet the requirements of the road traffic authorities for the use of such vehicles and an exemption is granted. However, use on public roads is only possible if an attendant can take over control of the vehicle at any time.

Do the project partners have prior experience in operating highly automated shuttles?
The BVG operated four highly automated shuttles at the Charité hospital in Mitte and the Virchow-Klinikum as part of the STIMULATE project between 2018 and 2021. From August 2020 to April 2021, services with two highly automated EasyMile shuttles continued at the Virchow-Klinikum site, while operations at the Campus Mitte site were ended. The BVG also operated the ‘See-Meile’ in Alt-Tegel with an EasyMile vehicle from 2019 to 2020.

Why is the BVG trialling highly automated shuttles?
The BVG is using highly automated shuttles on various projects to test the technology and accelerate its further development. It also wants to introduce the residents of Berlin to this new way of getting around. The aim for the future is to use highly automated shuttles throughout the city to solve the first/last mile problem and to integrate neighbourhoods on the outskirts of Berlin in the public transport network. It will provide Berliners with improved connections to the existing public transport system.

How is the public being involved? Will there be another survey?
As part of an acceptance study, the Technical University of Berlin (TU) is conducting a passenger survey (in and outside the vehicles). During the testing of highly automated shuttles, various user groups and their specific expectations of the technology are being taken into consideration. In addition to questions relating to ease of use, the study will analyse take-up of the highly automated shuttle service by users, residents, and other stakeholders. The State of Berlin is also interested in meeting demand for high-quality public participation and is, for example, engaging with citizens in the form of a public consultation that aims to result in recommendations for action on this central political and technical issue for the future. The general public is being involved through information and discussion forums. With regard to operating fleets of this type in other scenarios, accompanying project workshops are devoted to the question of optimising the system in the State of Berlin and how it can be scaled up or down for other areas.