Israel has launched a pilot program to bring the first autonomous public buses to the nation, Israeli authorities announced earlier in November. In the two-year pilot, four groups will operate self-driving public buses with the aim of easing road congestion. They will receive an investment of about USD $17 million, half of which comes from government funding, according to Israel’s Ministry of Transport, the Israel Innovation Authority, and Ayalon Highways.
“We chose the four most promising proposals, and are pleased to be among the first in the world to bring autonomous vehicle technology and public transport together,” Ran Shadmi, director of Israel’s National Public Transport Authority, said in a statement. “There is still a long way to go, but we have no doubt that this initiative has the potential to improve the service and the passenger experience on public transport and to improve the safety levels. The initiative is also expected to help the state and the transport sector to cope with the problem of manpower and the serious shortage in drivers. We will continue to focus on these issues as part of the initiative and in our regular work.”
As part of the pilot, the groups will operate independent public transport services on public roads, including transporting passengers. Upon completion of the program, the winning companies are expected to commercially operate the bus lines using autonomous buses.
The initiative will proceed in two stages. In the first, the groups will test autonomous buses in a closed experimental area and in operational areas, with the aim of proving technological, regulatory, safety, and business feasibility. In the second, the groups will operate autonomous bus lines on public roads at ranges that will increase over time.
The new project reflects Israel’s focus on smart and autonomous mobility, Ami Appelbaum, chairman of the Israel Innovation Authority, said in a statement.
“The number of Israeli startups in the field of smart transportation has increased from 400 in 2016 to more than 600 in 2020. The most significant growth has been in the number of autonomous vehicle startups established, with an average annual increase of 26 percent during this period,” Appelbaum said in a statement. “Also, since 2008, more than 20 of the biggest car manufacturers in the world and their suppliers have opened development centers in Israel, including GM, Honda, Volkswagen, Ford, and more. This sector is also creating significant business interest, with the companies raising around one billion dollars in 2021.”
The four groups are:
- Metropolin, one of the largest public transport operators in Israel, along with B.G. Motors in Israel, Karsan in Turkey, Adastec in Michigan, Applied Autonomy in Norway, and Ottopia in Israel. The Israel Innovation Authority noted the technology companies in this group possess experience with previous autonomous public transport pilots worldwide.
- Egged, the largest public transport operator in Israel, along with an unnamed French tech company. The Israel Innovation Authority noted this group has the extensive technological, economic, and commercial capabilities necessary to cope with the challenges of operating an autonomous bus, with the vehicle offered by the company in use in more than 20 different countries.
- Dan, a leading tech-oriented company in the local public transport sector, along with Dan’s subsidiary Via, EasyMile in France, Enigmatos in Israel, and Ottopia in Israel. EasyMile, which will provide the autonomous vehicles, has proven global experience in running autonomous minibus services in urban areas.
*Nateev Express, which has extensive experience providing public transport services, and Imagry, an Israeli start-up company developing mapless autonomous driving technology. “We are pleased to meet the challenge to operate the first autonomous buses on public roads in Israel,” Eran Ofir, CEO of Imagry, said in a statement. “It is a testament to the viability of our mapless system, which enables the vehicle to respond to traffic signs, road conditions, stationary obstacles, and pedestrians in real-time, just like a human driver would. It is also a strong vote of confidence in our capabilities overall.”
The Israel Innovation Authority noted this project aims to address traffic congestion by streamlining public transportation, improving service and passenger experience, and improving safety levels. The initiative is also expected to help Israel cope with a serious shortage of drivers by transitioning to a fleet of autonomous buses without a safety driver within a few years.
“By creating an advanced regulatory infrastructure that will allow the operation of driverless autonomous vehicles, and the activities of the four excellent groups in the framework of the call for proposals, the state of Israel is harnessing the autonomous vehicle to improve Israeli public transport, which will eventually turn Israel into a world leader in autonomous public transport pilots enabling Israeli companies to become global leaders in this sector,” Appelbaum said in a statement.