The First Autonomous Vehicles from 2getthere
Last week we wrote an article about 5 companies that are building an autonomous electric bus, the majority of which are just at the early stages of commercialization with various pilot projects launched. One Dutch company has been working on autonomous vehicles which operate on electric power since 1984 and is the first of all these companies to have working commercial deployments of which they have two.
2getthere is a leading supplier of “automated transportation networks” having been working in this space since 1984. There are two types of electric autonomous vehicles on offer from 2getthere; “personal rapid transit (PRT)” vehicles which are meant to accommodate 2-4 people and “group rapid transit (GRT)” vehicles which can accommodate up to 30 passengers. Both of these vehicles use a grid of magnets installed every 2 yards or so just under the surface of the road to navigate without the need for a driver. These autonomous vehicles also come with obstacle detection technology to detect any obstacles in or right adjacent to the driving path. Additionally, the vehicles feature ultrasonic sensors to detect obstacles closer to the vehicle. 2getthere currently has two implementations of these autonomous vehicles; one in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, and one in Rotterdam’s Rivium Business Park.
Masdar City in Abu Dhabi is quite an interesting story in itself. The ambition was to build the world’s first zero-carbon city in the desert. In 2006 the project started with a $22 billion budget and plans to build a city that would support 50,000 people. Fast forward to today and they’ve completed no more than 5% of the project with the finish date pushed out to 2030. 2getthere comes into the story because in 2010 they opened the first permanent PRT system in the world open to the general public in Masdar City. With 10 vehicles and two stations, the PRT system celebrated its 1 millionth passenger transported in 2014.
The second deployment by 2getthere, the Rivium GRT system, is the only automated system worldwide operating with intersections for cars and pedestrians.
The installation features an 1800-yard track with five stations and six 20-passenger vehicles. During peak hours, all vehicles are operational, on-schedule, based on a 2.5-minute interval with 2,500 people using it for transportation on a daily basis.
In April of this year, the second biggest transportation company in Singapore, SMRT International, formed a joint venture with 2getthere in order to commercialize 2getthere’s autonomous vehicles in the Asia-Pacific region. Singapore has one of the highest population densities in the world and 2getthere has plans for an installation of two autonomous vehicles in Singapore. As part of the agreement, SMRT bought a 20% stake in 2getthere at an estimated worth of $4.5 million which would imply a valuation for 2getthere of $22.5 million.
Out of the other 5 autonomous bus companies we covered, just two seem to be on the same track as 2getthere. Navya is the company with the most disclosed funding at $4.5 million but just has two buses operating in the small town of Sion Switzerland. EasyMile hasn’t disclosed their funding but of these 5 companies, they seem to be making the most progress with autonomous shuttles servicing recreation parks in Europe and over 1.5 million passengers transported so far.
All 6 of the companies we’ve covered need to be wary of Tesla’s Elon Musk who recently made he following remark about autonomous vehicles:
What we’ve got will blow people’s minds, it blows my mind …it’ll come sooner than people think.
With pundits predicting that the technology Musk is referring to will be debuted in Q4 2017, these 6 companies need to pay very close attention to what other competitors like Tesla are getting up to. When you have the technology for a driverless car, a bus is just around the corner. More importantly, said bus won’t require you to install magnets under the surface of the roads you plan to use it on. The autonomous vehicle we’re waiting for is one that can move from point to point alongside other cars on normal roads without the use of any fixed guidance system.