Hiroshima’s automated buses and V2X

My first trip to the Hiroshima area was with my mother back in 2001 and memorable for three things: the Torii gate at Miyajima, the massive okonomiyaki omelette dinner we had in the evening and the long trek up the hill to the Hiroshima City youth hostel with a heavy backpack. It was a whirlwind tour with less than 24h before heading on to Kyushu and Miyazaki where I was living at the time. It would have definitely helped to have some public transport back up that hill, but we sweated it out. Needless to say in the half-dozen times I’ve been back to Hiroshima the youth hostel didn’t make it on my go-to list.

In early February 2017, the city of Kure announced its three-year project to test if automating some of their buses would make life easier for its citizens (and possibly some visitors too). And while the no.1 goal of the project is to significantly reduce the cost of operating such buses on certain predefined 5-10km routes in the Shimokamagari area, the “smart mobility system research and development experimentation” project tender opens up experimentation possibilities re the services (such as remote bus operations) that could be offered using the 20-seater SB Drive automated bus platform. Preparations for testing will take place during 2017, with actual testing starting in 2018. In an potential nod to Yamaha, a rival systems maker, there was also a mention of magnetic markers embedded into the road as one of the scopes of the project. As only Yamaha uses such markers, it is unlikely that SB Drive is looking to develop this from scratch, but who knows. Maybe SB Drive are trying to extend into magnetic marker technologies as well. Look forward to hearing more detailed plans later in the year.

Furthermore Japanese automaker Mazda, with its HQ in Hiroshima, has been performing ongoing V2X tests between the ubiquitous Hiroshima trams and its vehicles. In a Mazda research paper posted in 2015, over 70% of collisions between trams and vehicles occur with either (1) vehicles running parallel to the tram or (2) vehicles turning right into an intersection (and at some point passing across the tram tracks). Over a period of four days and 25 trials, V2X information was made available to support both the tram and the vehicle with on-screen or audio notifications to alert the driver of proximity of one to the other. Using TTC (Time To Crossing) information, vehicle speed was managed safely via the vehicle’s ADAS systems. However while this was useful for turn-type use cases when the vehicle plans to go across the tram tracks, it doesn’t cover the vehicle running parallel to the tram use cases which account for 40% of total collisions. Ideally this this would have been taken up by future studies, although looking at Mazda’s technical papers website no significant research has taken place on the topic since. Maybe local universities can pick up the slack?

In the future, the number of automated buses, trams and other modes of transportation coexisting on the same road and operating at varying levels of automation is likely to continue growing. So embedding a minimum and standardized level of cooperative ITS between these vehicles, infrastructure and service clouds is likely to remain as a critical area of R&D for local governments, system makers, car manufacturers and service providers. Maybe leveraging the ETC2.0 back-end in non-highway scenarios? My guess is that before long we’ll see this problem surface in other regions across Japan.