Self-driving service started in freezing cold Finnish winter

Finland. 25 January 2022 – A 2.5-month self-driving last-mile service trial for the tramline is up and running in Finland. The weather conditions have been really snowy, cold, and challenging, but the vehicles have performed well. A group of test passengers was satisfied with the ride experience.

The autonomous shuttle bus service, part of the EU-funded SHOW project, has started in Tampere, Finland. Two Toyota Proaces, automated by Finnish autonomous technology company Sensible 4, are transporting locals as a last-mile service to the tramline. The piloting is supporting the strategic goal of the City of Tampere to be a pioneer in smart city development.

“Self-driving cars are an incredible opportunity for us to build a smooth, sustainable, and smart city. In the future, autonomous vehicles can complement public transport in many ways, for example in tram feeder traffic. The service trial will give us a lot more information about this, and hopefully, many passengers will get an exciting car ride experience”, says Anna-Kaisa Ikonen, the mayor of Tampere.

She continues, “In the future, we can utilise artificial intelligence and data for the benefit of the citizens in ways we may not have yet invented. As a result of diverse know-how and unconventional thinking, solutions improving citizens’ daily lives will be created, generating new business and knowledge. It’s great, not only locally, but also nationally and internationally, Ikonen continues.

The route is 3.5 kilometres long, it has 7 bus stops, the service is free of charge to use and the speed is 30 km/h. In the first week, there were already snowstorms, icy rain, and freezing cold -20 degrees. Varying, even hazardous weather offers a good chance to collect data and find new aspects for developing autonomous driving software. One thing is icy slippery roads, another thing is large piles of snow and third the road maintenance.

“These extreme winter conditions and realistic operation with real customers give us a great opportunity to find new aspects to development work and collecting data. In the end, self-driving vehicles must cope with this kind of weather as well and this is the time of the year when public transport is truly needed. Operation with end-users brings the most valuable user information, which is often impossible to design beforehand without real experience”, comments Jussi Suomela, CBO of Sensible 4. He continues, “Operation with passengers in the most difficult conditions is a challenge and source of information for us. It has been great to see that customers are happy and the vehicles have operated well.”

“Feels like a normal minibus ride”

Together with the local public transport operator Nysse there was also a test ride day for the NysseLab, Tampere region test laboratory. Attendees were first-timers in autonomous vehicles and their expectations were quite similar, slow, jerky, and braking to be hard. In the end, all the 7 test customers were positively surprised with both the experience and speed. During the ride, attendees were surprised how well the vehicle detected the other road users, like pedestrians and cyclists.

Comments from the Nysse TestLab passengers

Hannu T. “I expected the ride to be slow. In the end, it felt like a normal ride in a normal minibus. After the ride, I was wondering how the vehicle works in the dark and in the situations if pedestrians don’t walk on the sidewalk.”

Jari T. “Beforehand I thought the driving was slow. The vehicle managed the route surprisingly well and it noticed pedestrians on the sidewalk. I’d maybe wish for even faster speed.”

Jukka K. “I assumed the driving was careful and accurate. I attended with an open mind and the driving turned out to be interesting and it felt rather safe. The vehicle managed well in the slippery weather conditions and even if I felt a little tense beforehand, the driving wasn’t scary at all.”

Sensible 4 is known for its technology that is able to work in varying weather conditions, in darkness and light. The company has previously done testing many times in Finnish Lapland and is piloting at the moment also in Norway. Other pilot sites have been in Finland, Germany, Switzerland, and Sweden.

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