Self-driving shuttle at foot of Lion of Waterloo
After the first positive results with over 1.000 passengers at the Caves of Han, another major Belgian tourist spot, Napoleon’s last battlefield of Waterloo, gets an autonomous shuttle to test. From the foot of the Lion of Waterloo, the shuttle follows a 2,4 km long, technological more challenging trajectory to the Hougoumont Farm.
Like in Han, the shuttle is a French-built full electric Navya Autonom, capable of transporting 15 people of which 11 seated. The Navya Autonom Shuttle is capable of reaching 40 kph, but was limited to 25 kph and mostly drives at 15 to 18 kph as it is intended to be used as ‘last kilometre’ solution on closed circuits, like airports or public places.
‘Taught by human driver’
At the Caves of Han, the shuttle follows a trajectory of roughly 500 metres from the parking lot to the town’s square. The shuttle was ‘taught‘ its trajectory first by a human qualified bus driver, who is – by law – to be present at all times to intervene.
The shuttle is configured to mostly use its GPS to find its way, not its lidar sensors and in this version isn’t capable yet to avoid unforeseen obstacles, like wrongly parked cars, without human help. On the other hand, it turned out to stop sometimes for a plastic bag flying by…
At the Waterloo site, the shuttle, which was inaugurated on Thursday and can be used for free for two months by the public, has to follow a trajectory that is five times longer and technically more challenging. This one has curves and some minor slopes to handle, VIAS, the Belgian Traffic Safety Institute that monitors both test sites, says.
The 2,4 km path to the historic Hougoumont Farm is used by pedestrians and cyclists, and by farmers driving to their fields by tractor. Part of the trajectory is bordered by trees, where the shuttle has to use its lidar sensors to position itself under the foliage and to detect obstacles. Falling leaves are an extra challenge, as they can ‘confuse’ the sensors and make the vehicle stop automatically.
Losing freedom at the wheel
Essential in the whole story, VIAS says, is the to get people to trust this kind of technology. According to federal Mobility Minister, François Belot (MR), the choice of two major touristic spots was done deliberately “because here curiosity of people is the highest and their attitude to experiments is quite positive”.
A recent survey by VIAS showed that 42% of Belgians thinks the major drawback of autonomous vehicles is that the driver loses his freedom at the wheel and they don’t like a computer to take over.
VIAS points at another study, though, one of the American NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), predicting the number of traffic victims is to be reduced by 2035 by 80% thanks to autonomous and connected vehicles.