Home Public TransportationAutonomous Buses Fully autonomous mini-buses to launch in France

Fully autonomous mini-buses to launch in France

by Charles Choi
A French consortium is preparing to deploy fully autonomous mini-buses in downtown Châteauroux in central France. Credit: Benjamin Steimes – Châteauroux Métropole.

A French consortium is preparing to deploy fully autonomous mini-buses in France that are significantly larger and faster than autonomous shuttles deployed in the country today, the companies announced May 30.

The consortium of six companies — Alstom, EasyMile, Equans, Keolis, Renault Group and StatInf — will deploy a fleet of 6-meter electric vehicles capable of capable of level 4 autonomy — that is, the ability to act without any human intervention in the vast majority of situations.

The new public transport project, known as Mach2, will launch in 2026 in downtown Châteauroux in central France. It will get integrated into the Châteauroux Métropole public transportation system’s Horizon bus network.

The project will aim to allow a single supervisor to control a fleet of vehicles. It will also focus on guaranteeing the viability of the economic model for this new type of transport and addressing complex interactions with emergency vehicles and traffic lights.

Renault Group will contribute the electric minibus platform. “Using its experience in the field of electric vehicles and in adapting these vehicles to customer needs, Renault Group has committed to the Mach2 R&D project to develop and supply a platform of robotized electric mini-buses ready to be driven by autonomous driving solutions and accessible to people with disabilities, to enable players to deploy autonomous zero-emission public transport services,” Jean-François Salessy, director of advanced engineering at Renault Group, said in a statement.

EasyMile will contribute the autonomous driving system. “By replacing on-board supervisors with remote supervision of multiple vehicles, we will demonstrate the positive economic impact of this type of service,” Benoit Perrin, general manager of EasyMile, said in a statement. “Autonomous technology enables more efficient, accessible and less costly public transportation for communities. This project is a major acceleration in terms of performance and as the consortium coordinator, we are proud to unite the most influential players in the French mobility ecosystem.”

Keolis will operate and maintain the new public transport service. “Keolis shares in this project the expertise acquired by its teams over several years in autonomous mobility,” Annelise Avril, director of marketing, innovation and new Mobility at Keolis, said in a statement. “Offering new zero-emission shared mobility services is firmly at the heart of our raison d’être. We welcome the commitment of the Châteauroux metropolitan area to integrate this fleet of automated electric mini-buses into its public transport network, offering passengers a complementary service and a unique travel experience. We are proud to be involved in this blueprint project, alongside our partners in autonomous public transport.”

Alstom will provide the connected safety infrastructure and communication protocols. “Alstom provides operators with signaling solutions that enable them to ensure the safe and smooth flow of passengers,” Stéphane Feray-Beaumont, vice president of innovation and smart mobility at Alstom, said in a statement. “In this project, Alstom will provide the traffic light interaction system that will make the automated vehicle traffic safer and more reliable. This innovative solution will also allow interaction with emergency vehicles. Called TLS (Traffic Light System), the system has recently obtained SIL4 certification, the highest level of certification for railway safety. Alstom is delighted to bring its expertize and the high standards of the railway industry to automated road mobility through this project.”

Equans will contribute NAVINEO, a computer-aided dispatch and automatic vehicle location (CAD/AVL) system. “NAVINEO is an Equans product offering that provides real-time intelligent transportation systems to make public transportation more efficient, safer, more attractive and more innovative,” Baudouin Huon, CEO of Ineo Systrans, an Equans France company, said in a statement. “Our solutions are used in 250 transportation networks — buses, trams and trains — and installed in more than 50,000 buses worldwide. In order to respond to the ambitious Mach2 project, Equans’ role will be to develop its NAVINEO offer to provide the operator with a system capable of supervising a mixed fleet of autonomous and conventional vehicles in real time by making it possible to manage routes, monitor vehicle charge status, keep passengers informed and communicate with the control center for optimal operation in case of hazards.”

StatInf will validate the safety of critical software elements in the autonomous vehicles. “Our participation in this project is a sign of confidence consolidating our place in the ecosystem of automated public transport in France,” Adriana Gogonel, CEO of StatInf, said in a statement. “In addition, it will allow us to project ourselves in a serene manner for the continuation of our growth in Europe, while providing a solid solution to French and European manufacturers via our software development support technology.”

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