EXCLUSIVE: Autonomous shuttle malfunctions at ITS World Congress

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An autonomous vehicle being demonstrated at the ITS World Congress in Montreal malfunctioned yesterday (November 1) with delegates inside. The electric vehicle came to an abrupt stop on the test route and would not continue on its planned journey.

The passengers could only sit and watch as the doors of the vehicle opened and closed repeatedly, while an alarm sounded. After the doors were brought under control, the vehicle still failed to move and several people decided to get out and walk back to the Palais des Congres, with one joking, “This is the multimodal demonstration!”

Mobility firm Keolis, who were operating the shuttle, is to launch a new route for the Navya-built vehicles in Las Vegas next week – the first route in the USA to operate in a mixed traffic environment. But, while the malfunction did not appear to bode well for the new venture, Londell Triche (below), autonomous vehicle supervisor for Keolis Transit America, remained confident that such a malfunction could not be repeated in Vegas.

“In Vegas we’re going to be able implement everything. We will have GNSS. We will have RTK. We will have 3G. We will have everything,” he told Traffic Technology Today after the demo failure. “We’re using bare minimum here, that’s the big issue. The way it’s actually designed, if you lose one system, you have a redundant system. There is no redundancy here, except for the operator. So that’s kind of the issue that we’re having. Here we’re relying on odometry and lidar, and that’s it. So when we say bare minimum, that’s bare bones.”

After a reboot, the shuttle eventually returned to the conference center partly under manual control and partly autonomously, with one further, short unscheduled stop. The fault appeared to be caused by a combination of false obstacle alerts and a loss of odometry (a hub meter that calculates the rotations of the wheels).

Triche admitted that, even in Vegas, lidar will remain a critical part of the navigation system, with only the operator as backup. “In Vegas if we were to lose the lidar, we have a fault and we would stop automatically. And then we are able to reboot and go manual until we are able to fix it,” he said.

Navya shuttles operate successfully in locations all around the world, including a handful in mixed traffic environments “We have some in Europe and Australia being demonstrated in mixed traffic,” Chris Pauly, North America business development director for Navya, told Traffic Technology Today. “In Perth there are shuttles operating out of the airport on a semi-permanent basis.”

“We have around 60 shuttles deployed to date around the world,” he continued. “We’ll have the one in Las Vegas, two more at the University of Michigan, in mixed traffic on their north campus. We’ll have two in Los Angeles, hopefully by the end of the year, and a couple more in the Mid West. So we’re excited about the technology and use cases. We fill in niches where either buses can’t get, or the economics of larger vehicles don’t make sense.”

Watdh a video of the stranded vehicle.  

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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