Finnish self-driving technology company Sensible 4 carried out a successful autonomous driving pilot in Hervanta, in Tampere, Finland, despite the worst and most challenging winter conditions in years.
The pilot, which started in January and lasted for 2.5 months, aimed to see how autonomous vehicles work with public transportation networks and collect feedback from users. Two self-driving Toyota Proace vehicles were used as feeder traffic for the tram trunk line in a suburb of Tampere — a city aiming to pioneer smart city development. The passenger feedback collected was mainly positive and focused on improving accessibility for people with disabilities.
“The self-driving vehicles ran smoothly and felt safe," said Mika Kulmala, project manager, City of Tampere, in a statement. "In the future, I see these kinds of vehicles complementing the public transportation system for certain routes and amounts of passengers. We still need more testing to ensure the reliability in production use, and that the service either brings cost-savings in the areas they are being used or gives better service level to the population with the same costs."
The vehicles were driven in extreme cold, as the temperature dropped at times below -4°F. Temperature variation also caused the road to be slippery. Heavy snowfalls covered lane markings and the ploughing brought high piles of snow along the route.
“This pilot was valuable for understanding the customer and end-user needs better, including especially the accessibility aspects," added Jussi Suomela, CBO of Sensible 4. "The weather was exceptionally snowy but the software and vehicles performed well and we were able to collect important test data of the extreme conditions and experience of the challenging weather. In Finland, snowing is everyday life in the wintertime. One of the learnings was how to adapt to a snow ploughing track that in some cases, was quite far from the bus stop. Another is how freezing rain affects the hardware and how to adjust to alternate-side parking."
“We’d like to see more activities like the autonomous vehicle experiment in Hervanta" said Markku Niemi, program director, Smart City Development, Business Tampere. "The open living lab test area has been designed and developed according to the needs and interests of testers. Also, there’s a new three-year E.U. project starting next fall to develop the digital infrastructure in the area further, based on the feedback we’ve already received.”