27.8.2020, Finland The autonomous vehicle pilot project by Finnish tech company Sensible 4 concluded successfully in busy Helsinki, the Finnish capital, with three Sensible 4 vehicles operating in regular traffic. The pilot project successfully managed difficult conditions, including snow, wind, and heavy rain. Several big leaps forward were taken during the pilot period, including the deployment of Sensible 4-produced Remote Control Center, integrating the vehicles into the public transit system, and reducing the on-board human presence from two to one.
Sensible 4, known for autonomous driving software and the GACHA bus designed by MUJI, brought a fleet of three unique autonomous vehicles to the streets of Helsinki, the Finnish capital, over the late spring and early summer. Sensible 4’s GACHA bus, along with a Renault Twizy and a Dongfeng CM7 minibus configured for autonomous driving, operated in Helsinki’s busy Pasila region for 50 days, five days a week, totaling 300 driving hours per vehicle.
“The pilot was a success, and we took major leaps forward in several areas, including remote control and using the route planner,” says CEO Harri Santamala, clearly pleased with the progress made.
Safe, Fast, and Always in Control
There were no serious incidents or accidents during the pilot, although a few risky moves were made by human-driven vehicles, cutting GACHA off at intersections. The route had a speed limit of 30–40 km/h. In the pilot, the self-driving vehicles had a top speed of 28 km/h and an average speed of 20–25 km/h – quite a good speed for self-driving vehicles. While the route was a challenge with its busy traffic, it was ideal for pilot purposes. The route included a roundabout, several pedestrian crossings, lane changes, tram route, bicyclists on the driving lane, and a turn with a green light for pedestrians.
“The weather conditions ranged from snow to heavy wind and pouring rain. The vehicles managed all conditions impeccably,” Santamala says.
Safe travel in challenging conditions is a known stumbling block for autonomous vehicles, but for Sensible 4 it’s a strength. The small Renault Twizy had new windows installed due to cold weather early in the pilot – but other than that, there were no issues.
It was a step forward from the previous pilot, with the Remote Control Center (RCC), powered by a Boldly solution, now monitoring vehicle movements and data and ready to take control of the vehicles if necessary. In the future, one person in a similar setting can monitor and control several vehicles.
“Previously we had a software engineer and a safety driver on board, but this time there was the safety driver only,” Santamala explains.
In addition to the first-time testing of the Sensible 4 Remote Control Center, the GACHA users were now able to book rides from pilot stops with the Shotl mobile app, and the route was available in the route planner of the local transport service. With the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the number of passengers was reduced from eight to two.
Next Pilot in Norway This Fall
The next pilot for the self-driving Sensible 4 vehicles is planned in Norway this fall. Our own GACHA prototype is not yet approved for public roads, but the plan is to have a new Toyota vehicle, currently being configured, drive in the pilot. In Norway, there is the opportunity to test the technology on steep downhills, on narrow roads, and by turning across opposing lanes – enabling new ways of detecting obstacles. The RCC and software are under constant development.
“We are prepared for rain, humidity, and slippery roads. Steep slopes and elevated roads have caused problems for others, but we expect a trouble-free pilot!” Santamala concludes.
Pilot in Brief
- 3 vehicles
- 50 days of driving (Apr 14th to July 2nd, 2020)
- 900 driving hours
- Top speed 28 km/h
- average speed 20–25 km/h
- 0 accidents
Sensible 4 Oy is a Finnish tech company developing autonomous vehicles. The unique technology developed by Sensible 4 combines software and information from several different sensors, enabling vehicles to operate in all weather conditions, including snowfall and fog. At the end of February, Sensible 4 secured 7 million dollars in series A funding round from Japanese investors.
The Sensible 4 technology has won multiple awards, including 1st place in the Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport 2019 competition. The Sensible 4 expertise and technology is based on research conducted by the Aalto University mobile robot research team, a pioneering endeavor in the field. The Sensible 4 team has experience in self-driving vehicles spanning 30 years.
The FABULOS project. These pilots are part of EU’s Pan-European FABULOS project, studying the potential of autonomous driving in public transport. In Finland, the FABULOS project is coordinated by Forum Virium, owned by the city of Helsinki.