Understanding the autonomous mobility ecosystem
- Love This
- Yahoo Mail
- Facebook Messenger
- Copy Link
Posted: 4 May 2023 | Clement Aubourg - Keolis Group | No comments yet
Keolis Group’s Head of Autonomous Vehicles – New Mobility Services, Clement Aubourg, sat down with Intelligent Transport’s Leah Hockley at Autonomy Mobility World Expo in Paris, France, to discuss the challenges and opportunities of integrating autonomous vehicles into existing urban transportation networks, as well as how Keolis Group is leveraging data and analytics to optimise operations and improve the passenger experience.
Credit: Keolis Group
What makes Keolis’ approach to autonomous mobility unique?
We began working on autonomous mobility services back in 2016, with the aim to be able to offer autonomous mobility in the same way that we can offer a bus, tram or metro solution”
At Keolis, we began working on autonomous mobility services back in 2016, with the aim to be able to offer autonomous mobility in the same way that we can offer a bus, tram or metro solution. But, to do so, we have to deeply understand the entire ecosystem. We’ve been doing trials for seven years now, to better understand, to learn and to grow our skills. In order to be even more efficient, we decided to create our own test site, based in the city of Châteauroux, France, near one of Keolis network. This allows us to benefit from local activity, and also to train our new supervisors and new teams using the resources on site.
We want to understand entirely what is needed to operate an autonomous vehicle in terms of safety and legality. This requires involving different stakeholders internally, from the safety team to the cyber-security team, to operation, to maintenance, to training. We include everything in our activity so that we can start providing relevant and performant autonomous mobility services, integrated to a broader public transport offer, from the word go.
What are some of the biggest challenges currently facing autonomous mobility, and how is Keolis working to address them?
The key topic these days is to be able to start Level 4 services – the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) norm. Level 4 is essentially when you are capable of removing the safety driver from on-board. But, to do so, you need to be sure that the system and the vehicle is in charge of its own safety. And that is not easy, especially after six years of trials in Level 3 with a safety driver on-board. The safety driver not only welcomed people, but was in charge of many critical parts, from ensuring seatbelts were fastened where required, to preventing fire, troubleshooting and so on. When you remove this person, you have to find alternatives and other ways of managing these tasks.
Can you describe Keolis’ approach to safety when operating autonomous vehicles, and how you ensure the safety of both passengers and other road users?
Prior to any deployment worldwide, we need to test the technology to comprehend exactly how it works. That might seem easy, but it is not, and it takes a long time. This is why we are doing so many tests; we have even created our own testbed at the test site in Châteauroux.
Prior to any deployment worldwide, we need to test the technology to comprehend exactly how it works. That might seem easy, but it is not, and it takes a long time”
Funnily enough, the vehicle that we deployed in 2022 in Montreal, Canada, had been previously validated in Châteauroux. It’s a similar vehicle, with similar technology. What is important to mention is that, while it’s an electric vehicle (EV) featuring everything that is specific to EVs, there is software which is in charge of the driving – the autonomous driving stack – that needs to be understood. In addition, every new software release needs to be validated before being pushed into real operation in real conditions.
We test everything; we are constantly in discussions with manufacturers to perfectly understand what will be modified, so that we can train and teach it to our local operations. That’s the way that we manage safety.
What role does 5G connectivity play in Keolis’s autonomous mobility solutions, and how does it enhance both safety and reliability?
5G is actually a new topic for us. We are involved in a project called 5G Ride in Sweden in partnership with Ericsson, Intel Corporation and Telia, which is a telco operator in Sweden, to better identify the kind of feature that we could benefit from.
When you have only one vehicle, you can have a private 4G network, which should be enough. However, in the future, if you have 10, 20 or hundreds of connected autonomous vehicles, 5G will be very interesting”
Currently, 5G is not required when you have one or two vehicles in operation, but this may change in the future. Let me expand on this; when you use your mobile phone, you download information from the internet. When we are in operation, we need to upload information, which is a different process. However, the telco network has not been designed to upload that much information, which presents issues. This is one of the key lessons that we learned from the first trial in Sweden. It was realised that, to get a real-time video stream of our operation, the telco network needed to be modified.
Another lesson that we noted is that, to ensure that we have a stable connection in real-time with a controlled latency, we might need 5G in the future. When you have only one vehicle, you can have a private 4G network, which should be enough. However, in the future, if you have 10, 20 or hundreds of connected autonomous vehicles, 5G will be very interesting, especially because of the network slicing feature that is part of 5G. This forms one of the new ways of thinking that we have regarding this technology.
How has Keolis’ autonomous test site contributed to the development of the company’s capabilities and expertise in the area of autonomous mobility?
We want to ensure that every result that we achieve becomes a lesson learned that can be shared with our clients, but also our competitors”
We’ve been operating these types of vehicles in 10 different countries so far. We’ve been working closely with the Ministry of Transport in France, and the Department for Transport (DfT) in the UK, as well – namely, our trial at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – as well as in Sweden, Quebec and Australia. We need to work together to make these autonomous mobility services possible.
In Europe, thanks to European Union (EU) funded projects like Avenue and Show, we work for the common good. We want to ensure that every result that we achieve becomes a lesson learned that can be shared with our clients, but also our competitors. There is space for all of us, and we need to evolve together to make these solutions possible. Therefore, we share our knowledge and also teach whenever it’s necessary, so that our clients can issue tenders which are realistic.
Can you discuss some of the different applications that Keolis is exploring for autonomous vehicles?
Let me mention the France Vehicule Autonome program, which is the French autonomous vehicle association, and the national strategy regarding autonomous mobility. Together with our main competitors, our partners and all of the stakeholders of the autonomous vehicle industry, we have defined the next steps and the next potential use cases.
One of the first use cases is to operate these services in private sites, because the traffic is controlled and, for many different reasons, it is easier”
One of the first use cases is to operate these services in private sites, because the traffic is controlled and, for many different reasons, it is easier. This is what we are doing at our test site.
Interestingly, our test site is actually owned by French Fédération Française de Tir (the French Shooting Federation, FFTir). Whenever there is a big competition, the visitors, athletes, referees and officials park at the entrance, and we provide an on-demand autonomous service from the main parking lot to the different facilities. We will push to have this type of service for our first autonomous solution – an on-demand solution in urban areas to bring people to a mass transit station.
What partnerships has Keolis formed to advance the development of autonomous mobility, and how have these collaborations contributed to the company’s success?
We work closely with our partners – which are mainly manufacturers such as Navya, Easymile, and big Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) – to make these trials possible, because they need to understand how an operator will use their vehicle and we need to understand how they develop the technology.
Earlier, I mentioned the 5G Ride project. Here, we work together with Ericsson and Intel to understand how we could benefit from their technology to make the service safer, more reliable and to improve performance. We also work closely with some technology providers, such as for V2X technology. V2X is a way to communicate with the infrastructure, for instance, to allow us to safely cross an intersection with traffic lights. We also work with on-demand software providers, so that they can adapt their technology to our specific needs.
What are some of the benefits of using autonomous shuttles, particularly in areas underserved by other forms of transport?
That is precisely our target, to be able to provide a service to those who currently don’t have access to any public transit offering”
That is precisely our target, to be able to provide a service to those who currently don’t have access to any public transit offering. Let us be clear, it will take time, other than at private sites where we can already operate Level 4 services, as is the case in Châteauroux.
But our objective is to deploy autonomous shuttles in more complex areas in the future. The goal is not to replace actual public transport service, but to add this new mode into the range of public transport services and gain more passengers.
How do you think autonomous mobility services will develop over the course of the next five years, and what do you hope that the future holds in this space?
The good thing is that we are starting to see new players entering the market. Autonomous mobility used to be a very start-up filled world, with companies like Navya, Easymile and so on. But, if we take the last CES trade show in Las Vegas as an example, we have seen new players coming from places like Germany and Holland, among others. We are also starting to see big names like Waymo, Cruise and Mobileye coming to the market with L4 services.
Do you think that the technology has matured in recent years, as new players enter the market?
I think that new players have looked at the lessons that were learned from early trials by start-up companies and then have identified a market. Seeing that big OEMs were already involved has certainly aided in the maturing of the technology. We are currently focused on the electrification revolution, and that is the main target of most of the OEMs, and then we’ll have the ADAS one just to have more safety for drivers. Automation is the next revolution.
Clement Aubourg is the Head of Autonomous Vehicles – New Mobility Services at Keolis Group. His role is to structure this activity and support subsidiaries worldwide (France, UK, Nordics, Benelux, U.S., Canada, the Middle East and Australia). He has trained a pool of experts within the group to be able to answer all of the aspects of AV projects, from the technical validation of the route to the deployment, the operation of the service and the legal and financial topics. He is also a stakeholder in industry initiatives to promote the trial of AVs in real operating conditions in France, Sweden, Australia and Canada (Quebec), and is involved in European projects like H2020 SHOW.
From the first public transport pilot in Lyon (France) in September 2016, Clement and his team have assisted Keolis local teams and deployed more than 50 projects in 10 different countries, all open to the public in both closed or open road. It represents more than 215,000 passengers, more than 180,000 hours of operation and more than 160 drivers trained.
Connected & Autonomous Vehicles, Fleet Management & Maintenance, Infrastructure & Urban Planning, Mobility Services, Passenger Experience, Public Transport, Vehicle & Passenger Safety
Autonomous Shuttle, Autonomous vehicles
Australia, Canada, France, Sweden, United Kingdom