The on-demand service “KEXI” (Kelheim Express Individuell) is advancing the weatherproof and dynamic use of autonomous vehicles in public transport. The German Federal Ministry of Digital Affairs and Transport (BMDV) is funding the project, which will run until the end of 2023, with 10.5 million euros.
September 14, 2022 (Kelheim, Germany)
In the Kelheim district north of Munich, passengers will be able to book autonomous on-demand vehicles in a mixed fleet as part of the public transport system for the first time starting today. The KelRide project is thus entering its second phase. It is one of the larger public transport projects in Germany to pair autonomous and conventional vehicles. The goal of the project is to enable autonomous vehicles to operate in all weather conditions.
Following the launch of the KEXI public on-demand service last summer, the second phase allows KEXI customers to book a ride in one of the two EZ10 autonomous electric vehicles via the KEXI mobile app. A purpose-built hub for autonomous vehicles has space for five shuttles as the fleet is set to expand in 2023 as part of the project.
The autonomous service will be offered Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in Donaupark, Old Town and Pflegerspitz parking lot. The service will connect the old town of Kelheim with the Donaupark commercial area and serve a road network of almost 14 km in length. The vehicles will travel at a maximum speed of 20 km/h and have a safety operator on board who can intervene at any time via tablet. Rides in the autonomous vehicles will be free.
Interest in the use of autonomous public transportation continues to grow in Germany. The legal framework for autonomous driving was established in the middle of this year, and the region is also home to some of the most established ecosystems in the industry in Europe. The KelRide project is one of a handful of initiatives of this scale with a range of partners, including autonomous vehicle technology company EasyMile, the district of Kelheim, TransitTech software provider Via, consultancy P3 Group, TÜV Rheinland and the Technical University of Berlin.
Previous autonomous services in Germany often operate on a fixed route, whereas the innovative technology of the KEXI service makes it possible to route autonomous vehicles dynamically in real time. In addition, adverse weather conditions such as heavy snowfall, rain or fog still limit driverless mobility solutions to date. KelRide is also addressing this challenge for autonomous driving: using existing sensor technology and vehicle control software as well as intelligent fleet management, the aim is to achieve all-weather capability in typical Central European weather conditions. Today’s launch is the first of two steps toward introducing “weather-proof” autonomous vehicles by summer 2023.
For example, KelRide is driving high-tech integration between individual software solutions to enable autonomous vehicle operation, booking, route planning and passenger/vehicle assignment to create seamless intermodal connections. The Kelheim district supports the development and implementation of the project in conjunction with local goals for the region, including the optimization of public transport. This means the introduction of new and attractive transport services that reduce the use of private cars and expand access to public transport.
The implementation is in the hands of the management consultancy P3 automotive, among others, which uses its competencies in the areas of project and product management as well as cost analysis to ensure an on-time process and sustainable project success. P3’s expertise also helps to calculate the business case as well as to develop the blueprint for other municipalities. Finally, P3 prepares the scaling process of the KelRide idea beyond the original Kelheim service area. “As one of the founding fathers of the KelRide product vision, we are happy to see our product growing and becoming reality step by step. As project leaders, we are happy to now reach a milestone in terms of time, budget, and scope. We are excited about the start of the mixed fleet and have our sights firmly set on the finish line,” says Marco Dargel, Partner for Autonomous Driving at P3.
The Department of Traffic Systems Planning and Traffic Telematics at the Technical University of Berlin is also involved. The event-based traffic simulation software MATSim (Multi-Agent Transport Simulation) is used to simulate mobility behavior in the Kelheim district, and models are used to study the effects of autonomous service. In this way, the future demand for the autonomous shuttles in different service areas can be estimated.
Via’s software optimizes shared ride booking, routing, passenger and vehicle assignment, customer experience and fleet management. Via’s software also enables intermodal trips, so passengers can see – and book – multiple modes of transport across the public transport network in Kelheim and beyond. Via has extensive experience deploying the technology platform globally to integrate autonomous vehicles into on-demand public transportation networks. “We are pleased to work with our partners to implement this unique and innovative project in Germany on Via’s technology platform. It is a beacon for other municipalities and introduces flexible and efficient autonomous solutions as the new generation of public transport services,” said Jan Luedtke, Via’s Managing Director Germany. “It is especially beneficial for municipalities in rural areas. Autonomous on-demand solutions in the context of public transport represent a great opportunity to radically improve access to mobility and ensure connectivity,” he adds.
To operate autonomous vehicles as part of the KelRide project, Via and EasyMile have developed a technical integration of all interfaces that allows passengers to easily book their rides through Via’s mobile app. Technology provider and consortium leader EasyMile is contributing its EZ10 shuttles and expertise in autonomous driving platforms to the project. “This is another important milestone for EasyMile,” said Arwed Schmidt, Director Strategic Initiatives – Passenger Transportation at EasyMile. “It makes me proud to see our technology in public use, leveraging effective mobility analytics and operating in a mixed fleet approved by TÜV Rheinland. This is a clear path to large-scale deployment of safe autonomous technology in Germany and worldwide.”
Finally, TÜV Rheinland is researching and testing methods and procedures for the testability of the highly automated system, conducting all tests required for the planned road approval, including risk analyses of the operating areas, and supporting communication with the approval authorities. “Since the motto Vision Zero is our program, we are happy to contribute our many years of experience with highly automated systems and our growing expertise within AI applications to forward-looking projects such as the KelRide project,” says Dr.-Ing. Michael Fübi, CEO of TÜV Rheinland AG.