The self-driving vehicle will be servicing the route in cooperation with the City of Tartu, the University of Tartu and the companies Traffest OÜ, AS Bercman Technologies and Modern Mobility OÜ.
"Developing services in cooperation with companies and the university is a great opportunity for the city. Self-driving demand-based vehicles will be a natural part of our public transport system in the future. Therefore, it makes sense to test and develop the technologies with different pilot projects already now," said Raimond Tamm, Deputy Mayor of Tartu.
According to Tambet Matiisen, Head of Technology at the University of Tartu's Autonomous Driving Lab, this is the most ambitious self-driving project in Estonia. "For this project, we mapped 66 kilometres of lanes, which is unprecedentedly the largest driving area in Estonia. Within these lanes, we will be able to travel from any point A to B, not just along a fixed route. We will also be able to travel at higher speeds: while self-driving city buses travel at up to 20 km/h, our speed can reach 50 km/h," said Matiisen. He added that the car does not yet drive completely alone – in addition to the passengers, there is also a security driver and a computer operator. Nevertheless, the vehicle can operate at least 90% of the time without intervention.
"In the modernisation of public transport, it is important that self-driving vehicles also serve passengers in a smart way," says Tanel Talve from Modern Mobility OÜ, the company developing the demand-based public transport software platform VEDAS.ee. According to Talve, in the future, self-driving cars will follow people's requests instead of the usual fixed route and schedule. "A smaller number of empty runs will help make the service in the Vorbuse region more convenient, better meet people's actual mobility needs and reduce the cost of providing the service," added Talve.
The wider use of self-driving vehicles will require effective interaction between intelligent transport systems and vehicles. "The traffic cycle information received from the traffic light systems will help the self-driving vehicle cross traffic light-controlled intersections and make traffic safer, smoother and more environmentally friendly. We see a growing need for such solutions and want to contribute to innovation in transport," said Viljar Nurme, CEO of Traffest OÜ, a partner of the City of Tartu.
"This joint project is a good starting point and a breeding ground for the wider use of self-driving vehicles, as we can test the actual interaction of the vehicle with the infrastructure," said Mart Suurkask, CEO of AS Bercman Technologies, a developer of road safety products. According to Suurkask, the self-driving vehicle will interact with static smart city infrastructure during the test drive.
For example, information about a pedestrian waiting to cross the road is passed directly to the car from the smart crossing device. Likewise, when turning onto the road, the car wants to make sure it is safe, and will ask the radar installed and interfaced by Bercman whether there are cars on the road. "This is how our urban space will work in the future – autonomously and mostly based on demand," said Suurkask.
In April, a five-seater Lexus RX450h will be available, with an operator and security driver travelling with the passengers. The City of Tartu has been testing demand-based public transport in the Tiksoja, Vorbuse and Kardla region since November 2021.