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Autonomous Vehicles Start Testing in Germany'

The national railway company Deutsche Bahn (DB) and the Rhine/Main Regional Transport Association (RMV) have initiated a groundbreaking test of demand-responsive transportation vehicles with Level 4 automation in Germany’s Rhine-Main region. This innovative public transportation project, named KIRA, is currently being conducted in Darmstadt and the district of Offenbach. Here, the first Level 4 autonomous vehicle navigates regular road traffic, demonstrating its ability to make independent driving decisions within a specified area. While these vehicles can operate autonomously, a safety driver will remain on board during the trial phase.

The Federal Motor Transport Authority, known as Kraftfahrtbundesamt, has granted the necessary permissions for these Level 4 autonomous test drives, marking a significant step forward in autonomous vehicle integration into public transportation.

Testing Phase Details

The project aims to introduce six autonomous shuttles gradually in parts of Darmstadt and the Offenbach district. These shuttles are intended to serve regional transportation companies, HEAG mobilo and Kreisverkehrsgesellschaft Offenbach (kvgOF). Initially, public access to the KIRA shuttles will be restricted; however, residents will soon have the opportunity to apply as test riders. These participants will be able to book the shuttles on-demand via a dedicated app, adding convenience to the innovative experience.

KIRA, which stands for “AI-based regular operation of autonomous on-demand transport services,” is a pioneering initiative in Germany, according to its project leaders. It represents the first instance of testing Level 4 autonomous vehicles in public transport. All driving maneuvers will be under technical supervision to ensure safety and effectiveness. During the initial phase, the focus will be on assessing Mobileye’s self-driving system, verifying map data accuracy, and ensuring operational reliability.

Operational Aspects and Contributions

DB Regio Bus Mitte will oversee the operation of these autonomous vehicles, with software for booking and route planning provided by DB’s subsidiary, ioki. This software integrates cutting-edge technology from various partners, enhancing the project’s scope and capabilities. The collaboration highlights the integration of advanced technology and public transport infrastructure, paving the way for future developments in autonomous vehicle deployment.

Project Timeline and Support

The KIRA research project is scheduled to continue until the end of 2024, with plans for an extension based on the outcomes of the testing phase. This project has received financial backing from the Federal Ministry of Digital and Transport (BMDV) and the state of Hesse, amounting to approximately €2.2 million (US$2.1 million). This funding underscores the importance of innovation in public transportation and supports the research and development of autonomous vehicle technology.

KIRA stands as a significant milestone in the evolution of public transport, illustrating the potential of autonomous vehicles to transform urban mobility. By testing Level 4 automation in real-world settings, DB and RMV are at the forefront of this transformation, setting a precedent for future initiatives in Germany and beyond. The successful implementation of this project could lead to broader adoption of autonomous vehicles in public transport systems, significantly enhancing efficiency and passenger convenience.

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