Frequently Asked Questions
General questions about the RABus project
1. What does the term 'RABus' mean?
RABus is the abbreviation for "Real-world laboratory for automated bus operations in urban and rural public transport". This describes the fact that the use of fully automated bus shuttles is being scientifically researched and tested in the Friedrichshafen and Mannheim real-world laboratories.
2. What is the difference between semi-automated (SAE Level 2) and highly automated (SAE Level 4) driving?
In certain driving situations, a semi-automated system takes over both lateral and longitudinal control of the vehicle. The person in the vehicle remains responsible for monitoring the traffic situation.
In highly automated driving, the vehicle takes over control. Monitoring during operation is carried out by a technical supervisor outside the vehicle in a control center.
In the RABus project, it is planned to switch from semi-automated driving mode to highly automated driving mode in the Mannheim real-world laboratory, which means that there is no longer a vehicle attendant in the shuttle.
3. What are the project goals?
- Testing of highly and fully automated vehicles of different sizes in different types of areas and at acceptable speeds in real public transport operations, including public relations work
- Presentation of automated and flexible mobility services
- Evaluation of technical implementation, operational reliability and cost-effectiveness, user acceptance, legal issues and traffic effects
- Assessment of state-wide transferability and development of recommendations for action for sustainable public transport in Baden-Württemberg
4. Who are the project partners?
The Forschungsinstitut für Kraftfahrwesen und Fahrzeugmotoren Stuttgart (FKFS) assumes the role of consortium leader and is responsible for the administrative management of the overall project.
DB ZugBus Regionalverkehr Alb-Bodensee GmbH (RAB) has the task of ensuring that the budget is adhered to in cooperation with the consortium leader.
Stadtverkehr Friedrichshafen GmbH (SVF), as the concession holder for the Friedrichshafen urban area, has the task of preparing and organizing the operation of the automated shuttles together with RAB.
Rhein-Neckar-Verkehr GmbH (rnv), as the real-world laboratory coordinator for Mannheim, has the task of ensuring that the budget is adhered to in cooperation with the consortium leader.
As part of the project, the Institute of Transport (IfV) at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is involved in acceptance research with the aim of finding out which groups of people need and use which services.
ZF Friedrichshafen is responsible for the provision and testing of highly and fully automated vehicles for urban and interurban applications.
5. What is the timetable for the RABus project?
Project start: 01.09.2020
Project end: 31.12.2024
6. The research project is scheduled to run for four years, what will happen during this time?
In the first year, the first step is to agree on a suitable route and the vehicle. In addition, the route must then be checked for the requirements of the project: Road conditions, traffic signs, traffic signal systems such as traffic lights play a key role here - not forgetting the approval to ultimately be able to put the route into operation. From the second year onwards, operations will gradually commence in several phases - both with and without passengers, if the legal framework conditions permit.
7. How much funding is available?
The project is being funded with 14 million euros by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Transport.
8. What is planned as part of the acceptance research in the RABus project?
The aim of acceptance research is to find out which groups of people need and use which services. To research acceptance, four surveys are carried out involving both users and non-users.
The first survey covers the entire federal state before the start of the test operations. The aim is to gain insights into the acceptance and potential use of autonomous public transport across all regions of Baden-Württemberg. The larger sample is expected to provide reliable information.
The other three surveys will focus on the two real-world laboratories, one shortly before and one after the start of operation and one as a longitudinal section over the entire operating phase of the auto
nomous minibuses. The latter allows changes over time to be investigated.
Furthermore, the effects on traffic, such as modal shift effects, of an expanded public transport service due to the shuttles will be investigated. The agent-based transport demand model mobiTopp developed at the IfV is used to investigate these research questions, with a separate transport demand model being created for each of the two real-world laboratories in Mannheim and Friedrichshafen. Finally, the results are transferred to the whole of Baden-Württemberg in the form of a potential assessment.
9. How do you deal with skepticism from the public?
Of course, we take the concerns of residents in Friedrichshafen and Mannheim seriously and are addressing them. As part of various public appearances, we want to meet the public and inform them about the topic of autonomous driving. For example, we want to offer the opportunity to look at, touch and enter autonomous vehicles.
10. How does RABus differ from other projects?
Automated and connected driving is a broad field. The possible answers always depend on which questions are asked. Of course, overlaps with other projects cannot be completely avoided.
As a cross-sectional project, RABus is intended to combine many topics, such as the development of safe and reliable shuttle functionalities, economical use of highly/fully automated shuttles in urban and rural areas, increasing acceptance of the new technology, etc.
With the targeted maximum speeds in Friedrichshafen and unaccompanied driving in Mannheim, the project partners have set themselves goals that have not yet been achieved in other projects.
11. What impact has the pandemic had on the course of the project?
Of course, the pandemic has meant that original plans have had to be reconsidered and the project partners are now looking at hygiene concepts. At the same time, we also see the current momentum in digitalization as an opportunity to coordinate with stakeholders, authorities and cities as quickly and easily as possible.
Questions about the real laboratories
1. Why are Friedrichshafen and Mannheim becoming real laboratories?
In the Friedrichhafen real-world laboratory, a route was chosen that combines very different characteristics. It includes inner-city sections as well as overland passages where the speed limit for general traffic is up to 70 km/h. The plan is to initially drive on the inner-city section and later on the interurban section as the project progresses. The automated vehicles will be used in mixed traffic with all other means of transport.
FRANKLIN, formerly the largest housing estate of the US Army, is located in the north of Mannheim. Following the withdrawal of the American armed forces, the area offers enormous urban development opportunities. There is already a public transport connection along the site in the form of light rail line 5. However, this service is not sufficient due to the size of FRANKLIN, so a comprehensive mobility concept has been developed. Part of this new concept is the implementation of automated bus routes that connect remote areas of FRANKLIN to line 5.
2. Where are the test tracks in Friedrichshafen and Mannheim?
3. How do the applications in Friedrichshafen and Mannheim differ?
In urban areas up to 40 km/h
New development of residential area
Private property, but open to the public
1 route with two sections and increased complexity (crosswalks, intersections with and without right of way, traffic circles, shopping street with longitudinal parking lane, left turns, etc.)
1 combined route across a newly developed residential area incl. construction site traffic, first/last mile concept to increase the attractiveness of public transport
Selected route sections without intervention by the vehicle attendant
Selected route sections without intervention by the vehicle attendant
4. Why doesn't the shuttle go to Platz der Freundschaft (Reallabor Mannheim)?
Platz der Freundschaft is a main traffic junction for the residents of the Franklin area.
The necessary conversion measures and the traffic circle closures required for the arrival and departure of the shuttle are disproportionate to the funding project.
5. What infrastructure is required and what does it cost?
Installation of some new stops, signage, charging infrastructure, turning circles, adaptation of signal systems at intersections, renewal of road markings and, if necessary, traffic law measures, installation of magnetic spots in the roadway along the route; the costs must be carefully determined in phase 1 of the project and planned and calculated specifically on the basis of the local conditions.
Questions about the RABus shuttle/people mover
An "L4 shuttle" is a motor vehicle equipped with functions that enable it to perform driverless driving tasks in a defined operating area. A so-called people mover is used in the RABus project.
1. What kind of shuttle will run for the RABus project?
People movers from ZF Mobility Solutions are planned for both real-world laboratories. With a transport capacity of up to 10 people including a wheelchair space, these vehicles are suitable for supplementing the public transport services in Friedrichshafen and Mannheim.
2. How many vehicles are used?
It is planned to deploy two vehicles in both Friedrichshafen and Mannheim.
3. Why is the shuttle first used in Mannheim and later in Friedrichshafen?
The shuttles will be launched at around the same time in 2024. Automated test vehicles will be used before the shuttles go into operation. These will first start test operation in Mannheim and around ½ year later in Friedrichshafen. The route in FN is more complex due to the route close to the city center with very demanding conditions (in terms of traffic volume and traffic control alone) and the overland section; this requires more and longer preparation and development time.
The general conditions in Mannheim allow an earlier deployment, as on the one hand a lower speed is realized here (currently 20 km/h; in the further course of the project 30 km/h) and on the other hand it is private property.
4. Will there be different shuttles in Friedrichshafen and Mannheim?
No, the ZF Mobility Solution Shuttle is planned for both Friedrichshafen and Mannheim.
5. Will the shuttle be air-conditioned?
The shuttle has an independent air conditioning system and can both heat and cool the interior.
6. Is the shuttle barrier-free?
The shuttle is barrier-free. It has no steps inside the vehicle. In addition, the stops are set up as far as possible so that boarding is almost level.
7. What transport capacities do the shuttles have?
10 seats incl. wheelchair space
8. How fast does the shuttle travel?
The maximum speed of the shuttles is currently 40 km/h. During the project, investigations are being carried out to determine the maximum speed that can be achieved with the available technology, particularly in Friedrichshafen.
9. Is the shuttle loud?
No, the shuttle runs on electricity and is therefore much quieter than conventional bus models.
10. Does the shuttle recognize (all) road signs?
As the sensor and camera technology is constantly being further developed, it is also planned to support the recognition of traffic signs by the shuttle in the course of the RABus project, particularly in Friedrichshafen. The reaction to certain conditions of the system itself, the environment and traffic signs will be stored in driving commands for driving the programmed route. By the end of the project, the shuttle should be able to recognize almost all traffic signs.
11. Does the shuttle recognize traffic lights?
In principle, the shuttle can communicate with traffic lights. In this communication, the vehicles receive a radio signal from the traffic lights and the vehicle processes the information by stopping at the programmed stop line or crossing the junction when it turns green. Communication does not take place via optical systems, but via radio frequencies (V2X).
12. Can the shuttle run in all weather conditions?
The exact behavior in different weather conditions is part of the current research on autonomous driving. The manufacturers state that weather conditions can restrict operation. This applies to the following extreme weather conditions:
- Outside temperatures below -10°C or above +40°C
- Heavy rain (> 5mm/h)
- Strong gusts of wind (> 55km/h)
- Ice/slippery conditions
- Fog, smoke or haze
Due to the high speed of development of camera, radar and lidar systems, it is to be expected that some of the situations mentioned will be resolved in the next few years.
13. SHave the shuttle components been tested?
The manufacturer obtains the individual technical components from automotive suppliers. These components were developed and produced in accordance with current norms and standards.
14. How is road safety ensured?
Lidar, radar and camera systems are combined for precise environment detection. The ZF ProAI high-performance computer processes this data, derives driving strategies from it and passes on commands to the actuators. Connectivity systems network the individual components in the vehicle as well as the overall system with its environment. A comprehensive validation strategy also guarantees that the ZF components and systems meet the high safety and quality standards of the automotive industry.
In the vehicle itself, there is a vehicle attendant in the initial phase who monitors the function of the shuttle. In addition, the vehicles will drive passively at the start of the project and react very cautiously to any potentially dangerous situation.
In a later project phase, the vehicles should be able to resolve all situations independently. The attendant remains in the vehicle and monitors the system. The technical supervisor will also be involved.
15. Who is the operator of the shuttle?
In Mannheim this is Rhein-Neckar-Verkehr GmbH and in Friedrichshafen DB ZugBus Regionalverkehr Alb-Bodensee GmbH on behalf of Stadtverkehr Friedrichshafen GmbH.
16. Where are the shuttles parked?
The shuttles are parked securely at a depot near the route.
17. How the shuttles are charged?
Manual charging (similar to electric bus) e.g. in the depot -120 kW DC / 22 kW AC
18. How does the shuttle behave in a dangerous situation (emergency braking)?
In an ambiguous situation, the vehicle will always approach conservatively, as the safety of the occupants and other road users always has top priority. If a dangerous situation arises, the vehicle will always brake.
At the same time, the technical supervisor intervenes. They will contact the passengers and initiate further steps if necessary (e.g. informing the emergency services).
19. Is there an accompanying person?
As part of the project, it is planned that a ZF engineer will be on board as a safety steward, and at a later date an accompanying person from the public transport operator will also come on board.
20. What are the tasks of the safety steward?
The vehicle attendant provides an additional, redundant safety level for testing mature but still new autonomous vehicle guidance software in public spaces. It monitors the shuttle's driving function and has the ability to intervene should exceptional external circumstances lead the vehicle into unforeseen critical situations. The ongoing perfection of the capabilities of an autonomous shuttle is to be driven forward by collecting data and experience as part of the research project.
21. Can the vehicle be driven by persons other than the safety steward?
The vehicle cannot be controlled externally by persons outside the company.
22. How are the shuttles protected against cyber security intrusions?
ZF develops cyber security concepts in accordance with ISO/SAE 21434 and UN R155. No external access to the vehicle is possible without authorization.
23. How to communicate with passengers in the shuttle?
Each People Mover has an HMI panel on board that enables passengers to receive various types of information.
24. What happens if someone is standing in the door and it cannot close?
Like all doors on public service buses, the door is secured to prevent people and objects from becoming trapped. If this area is not clear, the vehicles cannot close the doors and continue their journey. Initially, the vehicle attendant will be able to assess the situation and guide passengers. At a later stage, the operator in a control center will also be able to get a picture of the situation via video if necessary and guide the passengers accordingly.
25. How does the shuttle behave in the event of an obstacle on the roadway?
Depending on the obstacle and traffic situation, the shuttle can drive around the obstacle partly automatically; depending on the state of development, intervention by the vehicle attendant may be necessary.
26. Does the shuttle brake in the event of obstacles? / Does it avoid obstacles?
The vehicle brakes automatically in the event of sudden obstacles. As things stand at present, it is only possible to swerve if the accompanying person operates the vehicle manually. The manufacturers of the vehicles have announced that the function of vehicle-controlled swerving is already technically feasible and only requires approval before it is released for the vehicles.
27. Is there an emergency stop button and what happens when it is pressed?
Yes, there is an emergency stop switch that the Safety Driver can activate at any time. This deactivates the vehicle's high-voltage system and the Safety Driver can bring the vehicle to a controlled stop. The doors must then be opened using the manual release.
28. What happens to the shuttle after the project?
Based on the experience gained in the project, a decision will ultimately have to be made as to whether the transport companies will integrate an autonomous shuttle into their fleet.
Questions about driving
1. What are the travel times/ When does the bus leave?
Initially during the day in normal traffic times, then gradually growing into rush hour according to the capabilities of the shuttles.
Operating times (Friedrichshafen):
Mon-Fri 6:00 – 8:00 and 16:00 – 19:00 (1st phase: inner city operation)
Mon-Fri 9:00 – 11:00 and 14:00 – 16:00 (2nd phase: inner city and interurban operation)
Operating times (Mannheim):
Mon – Fri: 07:00 – 11:00 and 13:00 – 17:00
Sat: 10:00 – 13:00 and 14:00 – 16:00
2. Does the ride cost money / How much does a ticket cost?
Because it is a test operation and the project is being funded, the ride is free for all passengers.
3. How many people/wheelchairs/pushchairs can be accommodated in the shuttle?
There are 10 seats available in the shuttle, including a wheelchair space.
4. Can bicycles/e-scooters be taken along?
No, it is currently not possible to transport bicycles or e-scooters due to the limited space in the vehicle.
5. Are animals allowed on board? /Can luggage be taken along?
This will have to be clarified as the project progresses.
6. Can passengers leave the shuttle at any time?
Regular boarding and alighting from the shuttle is only permitted at the stops.
However, if there is an emergency, leaving the vehicle is guaranteed.
7. How do I act as a passenger in the event of an accident?
In the event of an accident, the vehicle attendant present in the first phase would accompany the passengers through the situation in accordance with this manual and initiate all further measures in consultation with the control center.
In the second phase (also with safety steward), the implementation of which is still uncertain due to the current legal situation, the connection to the control center would be established and the employees in the control center would also accompany the passenger through the situation accordingly and initiate further steps.
Questions about the current status
1. When do the shuttles run?
Shuttle operations will start at the beginning of 2024. First, the vehicles will be trained on the route. In this phase, the safety driver will take over the driving task.
2. Why has the route in Mannheim changed so much?
Construction work will continue to take place on the Franklin conversion area during the project period, and individual roads will be completely closed at times and cannot be used. For traffic safety reasons and in order not to jeopardize the acceptance of local residents, extensive measures (e.g. relocation of parking spaces, temporary road closures) were avoided
A continuous route was selected for the Reallabor Mannheim, connecting Platz der Freundschaft to the south-east, the depot to the north and the entrance to the officers' housing estate to the west.
Questions about the legal framework and the use of automated vehicles
1. Where do automated vehicles already drive?
Highly automated minibuses are used in several dozen test fields in Europe, Asia, Australia and America. Examples can be found in Sion (Switzerland), on the site of the EDF nuclear power plant in Civaux (France), in Helsinki, Espoo and Tampere (Finland), the Gardens by The Bay (Singapore) and also on the Euref campus in Berlin and in Bad Birnbach in Bavaria.
In Germany, several funding projects are currently underway in which automated minibuses are to be used, including in Brandenburg, Rhineland-Palatinate, Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony and Baden-Württemberg.
2. What is the legal basis for the approval of (highly) automated vehicles?
Vehicle use: For the use of (highly) automated vehicles with passengers on public roads, a permit/operating license/approval must be obtained in accordance with the requirements of the Road Traffic Act (StVG), Road Traffic Licensing Regulations (StVZO), Road Traffic Regulations (StVO) and Vehicle Licensing Regulations (FZV), as these are motor vehicles with a maximum speed of more than 6 km/h.
Registration of shuttles in Germany according to new legislation (general legal framework):
Germany has created the legal and regulatory framework for the registration of autonomous vehicles since mid-2022. The shuttles are to undergo approval in accordance with the new Autonomous Vehicle and Operation Ordinance (AFGBV):
- Type approval of an individual vehicle in accordance with common UNECE regulations (tires, brakes, lighting, etc.) and basic functionality by the KBA
- Approval of a defined operating area by the competent authorities of the federal states (regional councils)
- With the approvals and an eVB number Registration at the responsible registration office and issue of vehicle license plates
Passenger transportation: In addition, there are the requirements of the Passenger Transportation Act (PBefG), which regulates the transportation of passengers for a fee or for business purposes.
3. Is the shuttle in competition with local public transport?
The test operation does not compete with the local public transport services in Friedrichshafen or Mannheim. The shuttles take over the tasks of fine development and the so-called first/last mile and thus represent a supplement or even an increase in the attractiveness of local public transport.