The prototype of a smart, self-driving tram has been successfully tested in genuine road traffic in Potsdam, Germany.
Matthias Hofmann, Product Manager, Light Rail Vehicles, Siemens Mobility, explains that the world’s first completely autonomous tram successfully drove along a six-kilometer stretch of the city’s tramway network. Developed by Siemens Mobility in co-operation with local tram operator Verkehrsbetrieb Potsdam (ViP), the vehicle was able to interpret tram traffic lights and halt at stops.
It also reacted to possible dangers such as crossing vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians and signalled warnings to other road users. Where necessary it adjusted its speed, maintained a safe distance or slowed to a stop.
The goal of these initial trials was to identify all the technological challenges presented by autonomous driving under real-life conditions. Then we set out to develop and test solutions to master these challenges. The project has been successful – we have learned a great deal and applied these learnings to the relevant autonomous technologies for future use.
Shaping the Future
Siemens Mobility began investigating some of the technologies involved in 2015 for its Siemens Tram Assistant collision warning system. This has now been deployed on Avenio M trams in Ulm, Germany, and Avenio trams in The Hague, Netherlands. Then a year ago, the company began working with ViP:
The Combino tram used for the project was previously operating normal service with ViP: it was retrofitted for autonomous use. It was equipped with multiple lidar (light detection and ranging), radar and camera sensors that serve as ‘digital eyes’ to capture the tram and its traffic environment.
Complex algorithms function as a “brain” that interprets and evaluates data from the operating situation – it surveys the situation then triggers an appropriate response.
The tram’s artificial intelligence capability ensures it responds to trackside tram signals, stops at tram stops, and reacts autonomously to obstacles such as crossing pedestrians and other vehicles.
Hofmann says numerous regulatory hurdles have to be overcome before autonomous systems can become the norm on Europe’s streets and integrate with regular street traffic.
But for the development of the technologies, this project has been an important milestone. It continues to elevate the step-by-step series of maturity for driver assistance systems, some of which are already in operational use.
The lessons learned from the autonomous tram can be applied to other forms of transportation, he suggests:
At Siemens Mobility, we are also exploring other forms of automated driving from self-driving vehicles to autonomous train operations, so we can apply our findings here, when relevant, to these other forms of driving.