The first step towards self-driving campus bus transport
Self-driving minibuses run on energy from their passengers – will this be how students and staff will be moving across the campus in a few years’ time? The proposal won a competition for sustainable transport solutions at KTH.
The KTH Transport Challenge is a competition between students and employees to produce a sustainable transport solution for KTH’s campus. The winning entry will be produced by students and teachers in the next few years.
“KTH’s campus spans a wide area and we need a sustainable solution for moving people and goods from one end of it to the other,” says Mikael Hellgren , research engineer at the Department of Machine Design and an employee of the Integrated Transport Research Lab (ITRL), one of the people behind the competition.
The challenge has a clear link to KTH’s strategic Campus Plan 2018–2023, which has sustainable transport within and between KTH’s five campuses in Stockholm and Södertälje is a central element.
There were eight entries in the competition, some of whose solutions were more viable than others. A jury comprising ITRL staff and the KTH Sustainability Office judged the entries on criteria including as sustainability, energy efficiency and viability.
Access for disabled users
The winning entry, “Autonomous campus bus”, produced by a student team, proposes an electrically powered, self-driving minibus for standing passengers only, capable of moving people and goods. The bus, known as the “Rapid Rabbit”, has a speed of about 15 km/h and will slow down at stops so that passengers can jump on or off while it is in motion.
“The winning entry has a lot going for it. The bus has plenty of space for people and goods and is easily accessible for wheelchair users. And there is already the vehicle project at KTH where the students who will be taking on the project can work on it further,” says Mikael Hellgren.
One of the other entries proposed a solution in which the passengers themselves create the energy to power the vehicle using pedals. The passengers pedal to charge the battery. The idea is to combine the two projects.
The fact that the winners included a ramp to make the bus accessible for wheelchair users was key for jury member Kristina von Oelreich , head of the KTH Sustainability Office.
“Sustainable development covers environmental, economic and social aspects and this entry stood out because it was the only one to think of the social perspective by including disabled passengers,” she says.
A completely self-driving bus will be hard to produce in the short term. Initially, a driver will be needed to monitor the journey.
“Having a completely self-driving bus on campus would mean having to apply for a large number of permits that we don’t currently have,” says Kristina von Oelreich.
The first step in realising the new transport solution will be taken by a group of mechatronics students. With Mikael Hellgren as their supervisor, they will spend the rest of the year working to develop the concept and produce a prototype.
“We don’t expect it to be completely autonomous, but it will stop by itself if it encounters an obstacle,” he says.
Run on solar power
The project will run for several years and involve students and staff in a number of disciplines.
“This could be used as a teaching element on several different courses. We might involve a chemistry student to look at a solution for running the bus on solar power or using a fuel cell that converts hydrogen to electricity,” says Mikael Hellgren.
The hope is to be able to display a reasonably finished prototype within two years.
“I look forward to having a discussion at some point on how the winning entry can be translated into practice on the KTH campus, and in the long run possibly even in the rest of the city,” says Kristina von Oelreich.
Text: Kristin Djerf