Autonomous electric shuttle buses

Through the city in a driverless Postbus

In a pilot project at the Sion mobility lab, PostBus is currently testing two autonomous electric shuttle buses. With no driver, they should soon be carrying up to eight people safely through the cantonal capital of Valais.

No steering wheel, no pedals and no driver's seat. Just a passenger compartment with seats and two emergency buttons that passengers can use to stop the vehicle at any time: these are the latest Postbuses, now to be seen on the streets of Sion. A computer steers the vehicles safely and reliably through the traffic with the help of sensor data, GPS and accurate maps. Since December 2015, specialists have been testing the two electrically powered buses from French manufacturer Navya in an enclosed area. The law does not yet provide for autonomous vehicles on the roads, but once the relevant authorities issue the special permits required, the buses will soon be running in Sion city center. And if you're willing, you can travel on them for free.

Safety guaranteed

But you don't need to be particularly courageous. The maximum speed of the shuttle buses is 20 km/h. They navigate to the centimetre, and with a range of different sensors, can recognize every obstacle and traffic signal. During the two-year pilot phase, there will also always be specially trained staff on board. And each bus can also carry eight other passengers. Safety is one of the many reasons why companies, universities and government agencies around the world are conducting research into self-driving vehicles: they could one day reduce the number of traffic accidents dramatically.

Research into new mobility concepts

PostBus wants to help shape the development and testing of these technologies in Switzerland. But the goal is not to use autonomous vehicles on existing bus routes. PostBus is focusing instead on research into new mobility concepts with its partners. The trial is part of the work of the mobility lab in Sion. Software created by the Swiss start-up BestMile monitors and controls the autonomous vehicles. The vehicle manufacturer and the regulatory authorities are also closely involved.

The project participants want to find out whether autonomous shuttles can provide added value for the public. Ideas include mobility solutions in urban pedestrian zones, or supplementing the existing public transport network with demand-based services such as flexible timetables, dial-a-ride buses and house-to-house connections. And autonomous shuttles may indeed one day prove to be a viable means of connecting remote areas and small villages to the public transport network.

Innovation made by PostBus

At the so-called mobility lab, a panel of experts headed by PostBus is developing and testing innovative solutions for transporting people. The aim is to improve mobility sustainably. The panel is made up of experts from PostBus, the canton of Valais, the city of Sion, ETH Lausanne and HES-SO Valais-Wallis, with specialists working on alternatives to the private car, studies on the use of bike and car sharing or the development of innovative services such as digital ticket solutions.

The future of mobility is out and about on the streets of Sion.

Roman Cueni, Head of Mobility Solutions