Yellow, quiet, and nobody at the wheel. The “Stimulate” project, first presented to the public in summer 2017, is now in full swing. Having completed extensive technical testing, the electrically powered minibuses can be used by passengers on the grounds of the Charité hospital in Berlin-Mitte from today. The three project partners – the BVG, the Charité university hospital, and the State of Berin – saw off the first high-tech vehicle in the morning. Employees at the hospital, students, patients, visitors, and anyone else fascinated by technology can ride free of charge and find out what it feels to travel on a driverless bus. The project is being funded by the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building, and Nuclear Safety.
A total of four minibuses were purchased for the pilot project, providing daily passenger services on set routes. There are two vehicles on both the Virchow-Klinikum and Charité Mitte sites. They have seats for eleven or six passengers and can reach a maximum speed of 12 kilometres per hour. Services are also due to start at the Charité’s Virchow-Klinikum site in April.
Michael Müller, Berlin’s Governing Mayor, on the start of passenger services: “We want to make Berlin one of the world’s leading smart cities. Our civic services and research institutions can play a big role here, and the joint BVG/Charité project is an excellent example: using innovative technology to help shape the future of transport services to the benefit of everyone in the city.”
Together with the Charité and its Institute of Medical Sociology and Rehabilitation, the State of Berlin will explore user take-up and other practical aspects relating to the use of driverless services. The research project will run until the spring of 2020, and has a budget of around 4.1 million euros. The Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety is contributing some 3.2 million euros to the “Stimulate” project.
Federal Minister of the Environment Svenja Schulze: “We want to find out if this approach can get more people onto public transport and thus help to protect the environment. We’ll also be looking at the question of how passengers respond to driverless vehicles to see what lessons can be learned for their future use. Digitally connected, zero-emission vehicles offer a great opportunity to bring together a higher quality of life and the environment in urban and rural areas with on-demand mobility.”
For the Charité, as a healthcare campus, the scientific insights gained on the project go hand in hand with the very practical benefits of driverless vehicles: “Both our sites, the Charité Mitte and the Virchow-Klinikum, are a microcosm of society in which patients, visitors, employees, and students go about their business,” says Prof. Karl Max Einhäupl, Chief Executive Officer of the Charité. “We hope the project will help us to expand our mobility options for them in the future, making their day-to-day lives easier.”
Passengers needn’t harbour any doubts about the new technology. In the initial phase, a safety driver will always be on board the bus and available to intervene if the highly sensitive technology has difficulty coping with a particular traffic situation. The project partners then aim to start testing fully driverless operation from the spring of 2019.
The two Charité sites are ideal for this purpose, as they provide for adequately large testing grounds and are located away from public thoroughfares. With their footpaths, junctions, and road users including pedestrians, cyclists, and car, lorry, and bus drivers, they act as a microcosm of Berlin’s traffic as a whole.
The BVG hopes to obtain important findings on the potential of this new technology from the pilot, for example as a possible complement to high-performance public transport systems or routes with low passenger numbers. “We’re fully aware that we will be a key player helping to shape the future of mobility in the city”, says Dr Sigrid Nikutta, Chairwoman of the Management Board and Operations at the BVG. Her colleague on the Management Board, Dr Henrik Haenecke, who is also responsible for digitisation, adds: “Projects such as ‘Stimulate’ allow us to further our specialist expertise and use new technology to offer even better public transport services.”
On the pilot now underway, a route extending around 1.2 kilometres with nine stops has been set up at the Charité Mitte site. There are two routes at the Virchow-Klinikum site, one of approximately 0.8 kilometres with eight stops and one of approximately 1.5 kilometres with nine stops. All of the routes are circular and thus do not have termini. As the project starts, the little high-tech buses made by Navya and EasyMile can be used on Mondays to Fridays from 9 am to 4 pm..
Press Officer Berliner Verkehrsbetriebe (BVG)
t: +49 30 256 27901
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
Deputy Press Officer Charité
t: +49 30 450 570 400
under a resolution passed by the German Bundestag