The 700 Meter Revolution

Local public transport can also be very exciting. In October 2017 its future in ­Germany started anew when a small spa town in Lower Bavaria saw the launch of the first fully-electric and fully automated bus.

In spite of all the challenges, this ­project has seen a motivated team work closely with the initiator, ­Deutsche Bahn, to not only get a small shuttle up and running, but also to take the first steps towards our future mobility.

Revolutions often start off inconspicuously and quietly, just like the local 7015 bus service. Since 25 October 2017, the minibus – five meters long and similar to a cable car – has been covering the 700 meters from the market place of Bad Birnbach to the spa resort in Rottal every 30 minutes. Admittedly, not a long distance for a conventional vehicle. But for the EZ10 electric shuttle, from the vehicle developer EasyMile, nothing is conventional: no steering wheel, no pedals, no driver, but plenty of electronics and software as well as a safety operator who is required by law to man the shuttle and who can intervene when necessary by triggering the emergency stop button or joystick.

Safely underway as part of Bad ­Birnbach’s regular bus service: the first autonomous bus on Germany’s public roads.

The first autonomous bus in regular service is an idea of Deutsche Bahn who is looking to provide solutions today for the mobility demand of tomorrow with its new ioki business division (“Input Output Künstliche Intelligenz”: input output artificial intelligence). The six ­passengers onboard do not notice the GPS monitor or the networked technology of radar systems, ultrasound detectors and laser ­sensors. Nor do they realize the input afforded by the project partners Deutsche Bahn, TÜV SÜD, the administrative district Rottal-Inn and the municipality of Bad Birnbach. This whole achievement required not only openness for new ideas, passion and the enhanced engagement of the many contributors, but also their courage. An achievement comparable with the first journey made by the Adler steam locomotive in 1835, which also only covered a distance of 6.2 kilometers, thereby making history. Today’s EZ10 bus might also take its place in the history books.

deutsche bahn
Sebastian Krieg
Head of Strategy Passenger Transport/
Pilot Project Leader Bad Birnbach

A forerunner in practical application

Autonomous driving will significantly change the mobility ­market, and we, at Deutsche Bahn, want to be at the forefront of this change. In rural areas in particular, where affordable mobility has always been a difficult topic, autonomous vehicles provide completely new opportunities. These vehicles can pick people up directly from their doorstep, covering that final mile and making public transport much more attractive in the process. We, at Deutsche Bahn, set up the ioki business division in 2017 to provide a flexible and seamless solution to such mobility demands. The aim of ioki is to provide practical autonomous technology for our customers in selected areas – such as in Bad Birnbach, as quickly as possible. And this, in spite of all the difficulties we had in finding a suitable vehicle, since there are none yet available from German manufacturers. However, by collaborating with a French vehicle developer as well as our other partners, we were able to successfully bring the project onto the streets of Bad Birnbach and we are now forerunners: with Germany’s first autonomous bus line.

Robert Matawa
Head of Test Autonomous Driving & ADAS

To bravely tread untrodden paths

My team and I were in Bad Birnbach when Richard Lutz, CEO of ­Deutsche Bahn, ceremoniously cut the ribbon on 25 October 2017 and paved the way for the first regular autonomous bus service in Germany. That small step represented a huge step for tomorrow’s mobility. We were proud to have played a significant role as technical experts and inspectors, although we had to tread many new and unknown paths to get there. Never before had an autonomous driving vehicle been licensed to ­regularly drive on German roads. The prospect of successful technical acceptance was only possible with an especially ambitious and courageous team. We needed to combine a precise knowledge of the legal situation with the most modern and, at times, newly-developed methods of forensic risk ­analysis as well as real and virtual test methods. We were also in close, ongoing communication with the competent authorities. The operation was a success and the bus has been making its rounds since October, thereby symbolizing our motto in its own unique way: “Choose ­certainty. Add value”.

Market town Bad Birnbach
Viktor Gröll
Director Spa Administration

Construction requirements quickly dealt with

When Deutsche Bahn put out the invitation to tender we got in touch straight away. The advantages of this pilot project for the community outweighed any potential risks. Following the planned route extention, the bus enables us already in 2018 to connect the destination of the spa resort in ­Rottal, well-loved by visitors and local people alike, with the railway station which lies 1.5 kilometers away. On the one hand, this project fits perfectly into our development concept to become an ecological spa, with e-mobility playing an important role. And on the other hand, mobility, in general, is an important topic in rural areas. In our market town community, 5,700 inhabitants are spread over 70 square kilometers and 85 different districts. Public transportation can therefore quickly become a challenge. But imagine – one day the autonomous bus will recognize not only one but 85 different routes which it will then drive when needed. Local policy makers were quick to recognize this potential and have supported the proposal from the very start. Our biggest problem was one ­specific building requirement. We had to adapt an underpass for the bus, but that was also quickly solved thanks to the support of the market town council.

Administrative district Rottal-Inn
Michael Fahmüller
District Commissioner

Sending a signal for the region

This is the first time that public transportation is carrying passengers autonomously. In legal and administrative terms, we have broken completely new ground, for example with regard to the time-consuming approval procedure. This also required courage. However, it is worth being courageous when two requirements are fulfilled: firstly, there should not, of course, be any danger to the passengers and other road users, ensured by intensive collaboration between all project partners. Secondly, this courage must also pay off and here we are convinced that the autonomous bus sends a significant signal. In rural areas such as ours, many people are still reliant on cars. With the autonomous bus regularly providing transport for ­passengers in Bad Birnbach, we are sending a clear signal concerning the flexibilization of future public ­transportation. I think that in this respect we can be proud that we are at the forefront of a project that is relevant for the future of our region.