echosmile, the on-demand, driverless shuttle returned to service on the roads of the ArchParc business park on 19 April for its second experimental phase. This is an opportunity to review the first months of testing of the shuttle service developed in partnership with RATP Dev.

On 18 September 2020, RATP Dev and ArchParc inaugurated the very first driverless shuttle service for on-demand trips in the ArchParc business park located in the heart of greater Geneva. The echosmile experimental shuttle is operated by our AlpBus subsidiary in partnership with the Swiss company Bestmile as part of the EchoSmile project financed by the European Union and steered by ArchParc.

Over the course of three months the shuttle catered to seven stops along ArchParc streets in autonomous mode, enabling business park users to complete the “last kilometre” and travel to the park’s restaurants, food trucks and other landscaped areas in complete safety for lunch. The preliminary experiment was a world first, as the Echosmile shuttle ran in driverless autonomous mode on demand in a complex environment for several months. The business park includes a motorway exchange with access to the village of Archamps, a major local road (the D18) and its own private road network.

A conclusive preliminary assessment

The results spoke for themselves at the end of the preliminary test phase on 18 December 2020: zero incidents compromising passenger safety and sound energy performance with only half the battery used each day. Surveys were conducted before launching the second series of experiments from April to July 2021 to get feedback from operators and users.

On the operator side, the five AlpBus drivers (who had all received safety and shuttle manoeuvring training beforehand) were satisfied. As AlpBus Fournier Director Ferdinand Vermillard stresses: “Globally, our volunteer and enthusiastic operators quickly came on board with the manoeuvres of this vehicle, which is packed with technology, as well as the supervision exercise in driverless mode.” Although they consider the first experiment sufficient to consider a more commercial service, they do, however, feel that the shuttle’s speed was too low in experimental mode.

Users felt pretty much the same: very much in favour of driverless vehicles in a business park with poor urban transport service, but they too wanted a faster shuttle.

Phase two: here we go!

On the strength of these lessons, the Echosmile shuttle began the second phase of experiments on site and live on 19 April, using an improved version featuring additional sensors to finetune the shuttle’s behaviour, higher speeds, less sudden braking and the addition of two extra stops in the south of the business park. “As a transport service provider, we have been able – despite the Covid crisis – to ensure real-use cases while offering the best of the technology made available by our partners and suppliers”, enthuses RATP Dev Marketing and Innovation Director Patrick Vautier. “Using this approach, we will tackle the second step in this full-scale experiment in driverless, on-demand mobility”.

We are absolutely delighted to contribute to this project”, adds Ferdinand Vermillard. “It’s a new skill that’s rare on the market – and rounds out and enhances the expertise of AlpBus – and which really gives us a lead over the competition in offering passengers a service that truly makes their daily life simpler.”
echosmile phase 1 experiment in brief:

1,000 km travelled
7 stops
5 drivers from our subsidiary AlpBus trained
87% of respondents considered that the advent of an on-demand, driverless shuttle service in Archparc was a positive thing