Level 4 self-driving shuttle vehicle by NEVS is close to becoming a real driving service.
Swedish firm NEVS is developing an autonomous ride-sharing network aimed at providing similar levels of privacy and security to car ownership.
The company’s ‘PONS’ programme is described as a ‘mobility ecosystem’, which has been developed in response to a growing demand to reduce emissions in cities around the world. According to NEVS, the 1.3 billion cars in operation globally are used just 5 per cent of the time.
The system revolves around a self-developed autonomous shuttle called Sango. Designed to offer flexibility for its users, the self-driving electric vehicle has a low floor, sliding doors on both sides and a bright, spacious cabin with six movable seats.
Although the Sango is designed for ride-sharing, rather than personal ownership, it has been developed to offer some of the benefits of vehicle ownership. The company’s vice president of mobility solutions, Anna Haupt, said: “We started by looking at why urban citizens have such strong desire to use their own cars rather than public transport, even if it means sitting in traffic jams for hours each day. The reason is privacy – in your own car you feel safe, secure, relaxed and free.”
The movable seats allow the interior to be configured in three different ‘settings’: private, social and family. Privacy walls also feature, and can be raised to divide the cabin into four individual compartments, or lowered to allow four people to travel facing eachother. The ‘family’ setting comprises six seats arranged into three rows, more like a conventional MPV.
Haupt added: “We realized that, to be able to really benefit from autonomous technology, we had to design a vehicle that would not only be an enabler for shared vehicles, but also for shared rides. How do you combine privacy with sharing? That was one of the main challenges to overcome.”
The Sango shuttle is compatible with “any of the self-driving software systems available”, but NEVS has partnered with Californian self-driving start-up AutoX for the system’s launch in Sweden. AutoX was chosen for its “unique software-hardware integrated approach, safety and scalability, and ability to navigate in dense urban environments.”
AutoX’s AI Driver offers Level 4 autonomous capability, which means it does not require regular input from a human driver, but can be physically overriden in the event of an emergency.
Generally, these vehicles are limited to a top speed of around 50km/hin a clearly defined urban area, which means they are mostly used for ride-sharing services.
PONS users can request a vehicle via an app, while a fleet management system will be used to monitor and ‘optimise’ the Sango fleet throughout the city.
NEVS will now trial the PONS system with a pilot scheme in Stockholm, which will see a fleet of ten Saab-based ‘robotaxis’ available for use in the city. Daniel Helldén from the city’s traffic division welcomed the initiative: “Like other European cities, Stockholm faces challenges with vehicle emissions and traffic congestion. Therefore, we welcome new ideas that share our vision of a greener city and less use of cars.”
A Sango prototype has been completed, and is currently being used to test the PONS system at NEVS’ Trollhattan headquarters. Owned by Chinese industrial giant Evergrande, NEVS – National Electric Vehicle Sweden – employs around 100 people and is headquartered at the ex-Saab factory, having acquired the manufacturer’s assets upon its collapse in 2012.