Automation In The Bus Depot

Recently I wrote about a Swedish startup called Semcon, who aim to deploy driverless technology at various stages of getting cars to forecourts.  The project is known as Born to Drive, and is a collaboration between technology companies, government agencies, component manufacturers and Volvo Cars.  It involves the cars driving themselves off the production line, into the shipping area and all of the various other stages of the logistics process.

It’s a process that can not only apply to the production of cars, but also their servicing.  That’s the idea behind a new study led by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), which examined the use of driverless technology in bus depots.

Autonomous bus depots

In any bus depot, a bus passes through a number of stations between it returning and being ready to depart again.  Various members of the workshop team make sure the bus is fueled, cleaned and ready to enter the road in good order.  The researchers hypothesis was to automate some of this process so that the highly trained workshop staff could better utilize their skills on the work they’re trained for.

When they began testing things at the Stuttgart-Gaisburg bus depot, they found that the drive into the washing facility, the external cleaning of the bus, and the drive to the parking area (and parking of the bus) could all be automated.  In their scenario, they envision the refueling, internal cleaning and pumping of tires to be done by industrial robots.  One part that can’t be automated is the handover point, as this has to be manually driven under rules from the legislator.

“Our system is based on standard technologies for autonomous vehicles and compatible with the conventional road traffic infrastructure outside of the depot,” the team say. “The challenges associated with accelerating, slowing down, and steering the buses can be mastered by equipping the buses with GPS, camera, radar, and ultrasonic systems. Processing of this information by so-called sensor fusion enables automatic lane guidance. Moreover, it must be ensured that the traffic signs, traffic lights, and marks at the depot correspond to conventional traffic infrastructure.”

Semi-autonomous bus depot

The team believe their semi-autonomous bus depot could provide quite significant economic savings.  They believe that a standard 150 bus depot could save around €100,000 per year.  As with the Volvo project mentioned at the start of the post, they also believe that it has applications in logistics use cases, as well as motorway rest areas.

The next step is to develop the concept further and create a functioning prototype that can be tested in a real-world environment.  It’s a fascinating project that will be worth keeping an eye on.