First and foremost, let’s make it clear that we haven’t changed our business activity. We continue to devote ourselves wholeheartedly to providing you with the best solutions in the field of environmental monitoring and natural hazards.
However, when we have the opportunity to collaborate with the Centre de Visió per Computador (CVC) and i2cat on such interesting pilot projects as a driverless bus, we also don’t hesitate to put our experience and technology at the service of innovation.
Join us on a journey to a future that is just around the corner.
What do we mean when we talk about a driverless bus?
Well, basically, we’re talking about technology taken to the highest level.
A driverless bus, or more accurately, an autonomous bus (1), is a type of vehicle that can perceive its surroundings and operate with little or no human intervention (2).
In the following video, you can see an example of what many of the current models look like. This vehicle was showcased at the latest edition of the Smart City Expo World Congress 2021 in Barcelona. Additionally, if you want to understand the differences between the various levels, you can refer to this article.
The majority of investment and technological research needed for its development has been directed, up to this point, towards private cars, with well-known brands like Tesla leading the way. However, an increasing number of manufacturers are now also focusing on autonomous buses as a means of transportation.
Urban areas, which are obligated to implement measures to reduce pollution and improve traffic flow, are, for example, a perfect “habitat” for their implementation. However, as we will see in the next section, autonomous buses can also be a viable alternative for high mountain or rural areas.
From Alòs d’Isil to Refugi d’en Fornet by autonomous bus
Now that you have a better understanding of what an autonomous bus is, let us explain the pilot project in which we have collaborated.
The initiative is led by the Department of Territory and Sustainability of the Government of Catalonia, which aims to analyze the use of autonomous vehicles with two clear objectives:
- Improve mobility in rural areas by providing on-demand transportation services to residents in these areas.
- Reduce the impact of private cars in heavily visited areas, particularly natural and recreational areas. Arantec has implemented various solutions for parking control and monitoring in these specific environments.
The chosen test area is a stretch of road between Alòs d’Isil and Refugi d’en Fornet, located in the Alt Pirineu Natural Park (Lleida). The selection of this location is solely for the purpose of testing the autonomous bus in a real-world environment. It does not imply that this type of transportation will be permanently deployed on this particular road.
So, what role does Arantec play in this pilot project? Our work has involved installing and operating an RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) system to improve GPS positioning using the stations you can see in the following images. We will explain this system in more detail in the next section, but in summary, the RTK positioning system is used as a redundant safety system to provide the vehicle with enhanced security, complementing other onboard sensors.
What does an RTK system consist of?
Let us explain it to you using a smartphone as an example. When you open almost any map application, you usually see a point indicating your location. That information is typically the representation of your phone’s GPS connection, which is a satellite-based positioning system that, although quite accurate, has a margin of error of a few meters.
However, the situation can change dramatically when you are in the middle of a mountainous area and the satellite signal reception is hindered by the terrain. In these cases, it may be necessary to implement an auxiliary system that enhances the signal. This is precisely what RTK systems enable, providing real-time centimeter- or millimeter-level accuracy without being affected by weather conditions. And undoubtedly, having precise location information is crucial when it comes to guiding an autonomous vehicle.
Other similar experiences
Although the technologies involved in these systems may seem recent, the truth is that work has been underway on them for several decades.
However, the major advancements have been made in recent years, with numerous pilot experiences like the one launched by the city of Malaga. These initiatives are providing a glimpse into the most promising applications. One of these is the use of autonomous vehicles as a last-mile transportation or shuttle service from a parking area.
In this regard, it is worth mentioning a couple of projects that share similarities with the development in which Arantec is collaborating:
- Berto, the driverless bus that operates in the Val Thorens ski resort in the French Pyrenees. It transports skiers and resort staff regardless of weather conditions, thanks to its 12 sensors, 4 video cameras, and GPS.
- The autonomous bus of CITIES Timanfaya, currently in the testing phase, which aims to use this type of vehicle to travel the Route of the Volcanoes in the Timanfaya National Park located in Lanzarote, Canary Islands.
As you can see, challenges are part of Arantec’s DNA, and we are not hesitant to go wherever our technology and expertise are needed. In this case, it’s with an autonomous bus project that may circulate in the Pyrenees in a few years. In the future, we may even equip autonomous boats. But we will always strive to provide the best solutions within our reach.
- (1) FundéuRAE (2017). «vehículo autónomo», mejor que «sin conductor». Consultado el 24 de noviembre de 2021 de https://www.fundeu.es/recomendacion/vehiculo-autoconducido-o-autonomo-mejor-que-sin-conductor/
- (2) Mouratidis, K., & Cobeña Serrano, V. (2021). Autonomous buses: Intentions to use, passenger experiences, and suggestions for improvement. Transportation Research Part F: Traffic Psychology And Behaviour, 76, 321-335. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.trf.2020.12.007