Driverless shuttle buses have arrived in Tallinn, and they will begin operating the route between Viru Square and the Tallinn Creative Hub (Kultuurikatel) - the main venue of the Estonian Presidency of the Council of the European Union. Riding the shuttle is free of charge for everyone.
The driverless Easymile shuttles will appear on the streets of Tallinn in two weeks. Before taking passengers, the buses have to go through the Estonian Road Administration checks that are required for all buses before they enter into service. Everyone is welcome to take the shuttle from the Viru roundabout to the Tallinn Creative Hub (Kultuurikatel); a single shuttle carries up to 8 passengers at a time. A presenter will be onboard to explain the new, innovative technology.
According to Valdek Laur, an adviser on digital solutions for the Estonian Presidency, the field of driverless vehicles is developing quickly. “The Estonian Presidency is a good chance to introduce novel solutions and encourage development centres, entrepreneurs and institutions to cooperate. The broad idea behind the project is to go through the entire process of introducing driverless vehicles, from permits and producer requirements to the response of people and presenting the new technology to the public,” Laur said.
Introducing driverless technology will be gradual, according to Pirko Konsa, the head of the Estonian Government Office’s group of experts on self-driving vehicles, and Estonia is currently taking its first steps in the process. “Driverless technology has great potential. Driverless shuttles could be successfully used in low density areas to help people with restricted mobility,” he said. Commenting on the benefits of the technology, he highlighted safety: “90% of traffic accidents are caused by human error. Driverless technology is certainly a key solution in increasing road safety.”
According to Johann Peetre, an executive director at the Transport Development and Investments Department of the Estonian Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications, Estonia will aim to advance the digitalisation of transport and the adoption of new, smarter transport solutions. “In Estonia we know that for predicting the future technological trends we have to create it ourselves. The Easymile driverless shuttle is the first visible step towards future solutions and hopefully they will be joined by other driverless vehicles, such as buses, cars and taxis in the cities as well as the country. We want Estonia to be among the first countries to embrace driverless technology,” Peetre said.
The Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications wishes to increase competence in driverless technology at the national level, as well as in universities and businesses, in order to be prepared for a more extensive introduction of the technology. To this end, there are plans to test the technology of various producers of driverless vehicles and identify their benefits and limitations.
The driverless shuttles were transported from France to Estonia by the transport company DSV; and they will be operated by Milrem, a developer of unmanned tracked vehicles, the company that is in charge of training presenters, as well as the technical maintenance of the vehicles. Cybersecurity will be provided by the software company Guardtime. “We were interested in Estonia getting a chance to test new and exciting technologies. We are already at the forefront in the world when it comes to the adoption of blockchain technology, and I am happy to also introduce it in Estonia,” said Martin Ruubel from Guardtime, which is helping Estonia ensure data correctness.
Project partners also include Tallink who will offer the opportunity to take a driverless Tallink shuttle, and the project is co-financed by Microsoft Estonia. The Tallinn Transport Department will prepare the route. “This project allows Tallink to be a part of innovation in the field of transport. Just as our ferry Megastar has already transformed the idea of ferry connections and advanced to the next generation, driverless buses will soon do the same for urban transport. It is a global and irreversible trend,” noted Margus Hunt, the head of sales and marketing at Tallink.
The testing of driverless vehicles has been allowed on Estonian roads since March of this year, 2017. The condition is that the vehicle has a designated person who can take over the controls if necessary. Testing is allowed on vehicles that are classified as SAE 2 or SAE 3 by SAE International – the Society of Automotive Engineers.
Photos of the self-driving buses are available through the Estonian Presidency Flickr.