Scientific monitoring of the pilot operation of driverless bus shuttles to the campus

With the project "KREATÖR - Radio and Vehicle Technologies for Automated Passenger Transport in Public Spaces", the Thuringian Innovation Center for Mobility (ThIMo) at TU Ilmenau is supporting a new transport service offered by the city of Ilmenau and the Ilm district. The project, which is funded by the Thuringian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Science and Digital Society (TMWWDG) with around two million euros and managed by the Thüringer Aufbaubank, will be the first time in Thuringia that highly automated driving has been integrated into the timetable of a passenger transport company. With the upcoming timetable change in spring 2022, the buses could start operating for an initial period of two years. Until then, the city will create the necessary transport infrastructure.

Collage: ThIMo/Bus-Shuttel: EasyMile
E-mobility: Ilm district and city of Ilmenau plan to use a highly automated shuttle bus from Ilmenau train station to the campus of the University (the route shown may differ from the real one)

In the fall of 2020, the Thuringian Ministry for the Environment, Energy and Nature Conservation (TMUEN) had already given the go-ahead to fund the project through the "Modellprojekt Elektrobussysteme“. This means that up to 800,000 euros are available for the procurement of the vehicles and the charging point infrastructure. Thuringia's Environment Minister Anja Siegesmund: "Clean, quiet and digital is the local transport of the future: highly automated electric minibuses can increase the attractiveness of local transport and help to close existing gaps in service, especially on the last mile, with environmentally friendly drives. We are happy to support the two-year pilot operation of a highly automated shuttle in Ilmenau in order to gain experience with this new technology in Thuringia as well."

For the scientific support of the pilot operation of the automated campus buses, five departments of the TU Ilmenau have joined forces within the framework of the joint project KREATÖR at the ThIMo. The project focuses on the research and development of innovative radio and vehicle technologies for highly automated and connected driving. This research is complemented by communication science analyses of risk perception and acceptance of the technology among the population and in the media, as well as by tailored transfer measures coordinated with the Vice President for International Affairs and Transfer. This will be supplemented by public relations and science communication measures.

Important element of the planned "Digital Mobility" research offensive

"This project is a milestone for the real-time coupling between real application and research environment," explains KREATÖR project manager and ThIMo director Prof. Dr. Matthias Hein: "It puts the principle of 'open innovation' in public transport on a new level and at the same time forms an important element in the planned research offensive 'Digital Mobility' of the ThIMo."

District Administrator Petra Enders is also convinced: "The pilot project and its on-site scientific support have model character beyond the Ilm district." The project was preceded by a feasibility study conducted by the autoBus office on behalf of the Ilm district, which was also supported with funding from the Thuringian Ministry of the Environment. Suitable routes were examined for their technical and legal feasibility and a recommendation was made for the implementation of the route from Ilmenau station to the university campus.

Developing the public transport of tomorrow

Complete driverless operation is currently not possible due to the current legal situation, so that a so-called operator on board must be able to intervene at any time in safety-relevant traffic situations or malfunctions. For this reason, the scientific support provided by the ThIMo is intended to gain experience with the opportunities and potential of autonomous local transport services and to transfer these into practice as the degree of automation of the vehicles to be used increases.

"Climate protection in the transport sector is not possible without strengthening local public transport," says District Administrator Petra Enders. "Integrated as well as networked planning of highly automated and conventional transport services could also strengthen the attractiveness of local public transport, could increase local and connecting mobility, fine development and connection of districts with low passenger potential. With the city of Ilmenau and the TU Ilmenau, we have found important partners and supporters for the implementation of these goals."


Tatjana Faj

Research Assistent at the TU Ilmenau