SAFESTREAM project to accelerate autonomous driving to SAE Level 4 in public transport in Germany launched

The German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK) has awarded a consortium of German experts in the field of autonomous driving €8.9 million for the SAFESTREAM project. The consortium partners are investing an additional €6.9 million euros in the project. The goal is to advance the operation of driverless public transportation in the country to SAE Level 4 (i.e., without a human supervisor on board).

The project involves EasyMile as consortium leader and autonomous shuttle provider, and partners T-Systems for Deutsche Telekom, TÜV Rheinland, P3, the Technical University of Munich (TUM), and the District of Kelheim and Bahnen der Stadt Monheim.

The project builds on the already highly automated operation of shuttle buses in the public transport systems of Kelheim and Monheim am Rhein. It is a crucial step in proving the success of Level 4 public transport operations in Germany, as the popularity and use of autonomous public transport is gaining momentum in the country. Germany finalized its legal framework for autonomous driving earlier this year and SAFESTREAM will build on this new legislation.

The goal of the project is to replace the currently required safety attendant in the vehicles in Kelheim and Monheim am Rhein with a technical supervisor not physically present in the vehicle, in compliance with the law. This must be demonstrated in the operation of the shuttle service.

Physically removing a safety attendant from an autonomous passenger vehicle presupposes that the same level of safety is maintained for other vehicles and road users. It offers benefits such as increased flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and scalability of the service.

To achieve the project objectives, the role of a Technical Supervisor will be defined and implemented in line with the requirements of the AFGBV (Autonomous Vehicles Licensing and Operation Ordinance). The results and challenges will be summarized in a guideline to help further cities and municipalities in Germany to accelerate the cost-effective introduction of autonomous mobility solutions in public spaces.

The SAFESTREAM consortium started working together in August this year. Initial tests on public roads in Kelheim and Monheim am Rhein are planned for 2024. In the meantime, the necessary systems and software solutions will be developed, evaluated and tested. This aims to ensure the commissioning of an overall system based on the AFGBV that is safe for road traffic and all road users.

These actions will create a basis for scalable fleet solutions by 2025 that will lead to a substantial improvement in public transport through significantly more attractive, more accessible and more efficiently controllable mobility services. This includes both technical and organizational concepts (vehicle, software, technical supervision), economic assessments (changed mobility profile, improved land use in cities, avoidance of oversized transport solutions) and scientific findings (mobility behavior, safety of autonomous systems in road traffic, improved vehicle concepts).

“The technical supervisor will take over the tasks of the safety attendant remotely and support the vehicle in case of challenges from a remote workstation. In doing so, the Chair in SAFESTREAM is incorporating its experience from previous projects and research in the field of teleoperation and is designing the use of the Technical Supervisor with intelligent algorithms and methods,” says Frank Diermeyer, academic senior councillor of the Chair in Automotive Technology (FTM) and head of the Teleoperation Research Group at TUM.

TÜV Rheinland:
“An important prerequisite for the success of innovative mobility solutions is to ensure the safety of all participants. TÜV Rheinland will therefore develop an assessment concept within SAFESTREAM that takes into account the overall system as well as the individual subsystems of the autonomous vehicle and the new role of technical supervision defined in the German Road Traffic Act (StVG), thus creating the possible conditions for approval of the solution to be developed for operation on public roads,” says Rico Barth, responsible for Connected and Automated Driving at TÜV Rheinland.

P3 automotive GmbH:
“We are pleased to play a significant role within the consortium in the SAFESTREAM project, primarily taking on the overall project coordination as well as increasing the scalability and efficiency of autonomous mobility based on an economic exploitation concept. P3 also sees itself as a catalyst for a wide dissemination of the SAFESTREAM concept in Germany and Europe and looks motivated towards the future,” says Marco Dargel, Partner for Autonomous Driving at P3.

“Physically removing a safety attendant from onboard while respecting the highest safety standards represents one of the essential development steps of autonomous driving. Through a systematic approach, SAFESTREAM promises to enable economically scalable regular operations of autonomous traffic systems in public spaces in the future. EasyMile as consortium leader is proud to receive the trust and funding to successfully implement this project,” said Dr.-Ing. Arwed Schmidt, Director Strategic Initiatives – Passenger Transportation EasyMile.

District of Kelheim:
“For a sustainable mobility change and a higher use of public transport in our county, the quality of the transport offer has to improve significantly. A true Level 4 operation of our transports will enable us in the future to provide an attractive mobility offer that is customer-centric and financially viable in the long term,” says Martin Neumeyer, District Administrator in the Kelheim district.

Bahnen der Stadt Monheim GmbH:
“Autonomous mobility at Level 4 is an important milestone for Monheim am Rhein and the surrounding area, as we aim to expand such offerings throughout our service area. It is the cornerstone for the development of new autonomous routes as well as other mobility offerings. Together, these will make a significant contribution to the traffic turnaround in and around our city,” said Frank Niggemeier-Oliva, Managing Director of Monheim’s railroads.

“A scalable platform for the technical oversight of highly automated vehicles in the public sector, along with a modern 5G network, are key to enabling and efficiently driving the mobility revolution with driverless shuttles, especially in rural areas,” says Christer Neimöck, project manager and responsible for business development automated driving at T-Systems.