see. think. act.
English
Languages

Technology

#smartmobility

The Pioneers of People Mover

Min Reading Time
Tags: Efficiency, AutonomousDriving, Emobility, Connectivity
Mobility provider 2getthere has been building driverless people movers for decades. 2getthere’s founder and CEO Carel van Helsdingen talks about the challenges of developing autonomous shuttles for mixed traffic.
Kathrin Wildemann, December 20, 2019
author_image
Kathrin Wildemann has been a part of the permanent Copy Team at ZF since 2016. In her online and offline articles, she likes to cover electromobility and other topics that involve sustainability.

Mr van Helsdingen, 2getthere started working on automated transportation in 1984, long before self-driving vehicles were a widely discussed possibility. Where did you get this idea from?

Mr van Helsdingen, 2getthere started working on automated transportation in 1984, long before self-driving vehicles were a widely discussed possibility. Where did you get this idea from?

It was partly the logical next step in my career and partly coincidence. I had studied mechanical engineering and manufacturing technology in the 1970s, when robotics became a big topic for the first time. I worked as a project developer at IBM for a few years and wanted to set up my own manufacturing innovation company. One of our first customers had a problem with their automated guided vehicles, short AGVs. Back then, AGVs would simply follow a wire in the ground – a very inflexible system that was prone to fail as soon as the vehicle moved just a few centimeters off the wire. So we came up with a better solution: Instead of a old-school vehicle on a smart infrastructure, we would build a smart vehicle that would navigate on a old-school infrastructure – such as a grid, a pattern in or on the ground. This gives you the flexibility to easily set up new routes or to correct your course at any point. We called the system FROG, free ranging on grid, and had it patented in 1985. As long as we had sensors for it, anything could serve as a grid. For example, Apple used a FROG system that was based on their black and white checkered floor tiles.
Carel van Helsdingen, founder and CEO of 2getthere

How has your focus shifted over the years?

How has your focus shifted over the years?

After concentrating on industrial cargo applications for almost a decade, we decided to expand our portfolio and installed our first people mover in 1997, a shuttle for the long-term parking space at Schiphol Airport. We quickly realized that transporting passengers adds a whole new dimension of complexity: If you shuttle people, the safety and protection of your occupants is paramount. Cargo movers have to be prevented from hitting obstacles around them. With people movers, you have to protect both the outside world and the inside world, requiring a completely different approach to safety and driving comfort. In order to meet these requirements, we focused our people mover activities first in a separate business unit and later in a separate company: 2getthere. FROG was sold in 2013.

The examples so far have been limited to restricted areas. Where do you see the biggest use case for automated people movers?

The examples so far have been limited to restricted areas. Where do you see the biggest use case for automated people movers?

The market that we have been focusing on so far is typically the last mile connection: connecting long distance public transportation nodes – tram, train or bus stations – to business and domestic areas. The advantage is that we could cover those, usually rather short, distances in segregated lanes instead of mixing into the regular traffic. That way, we could navigate on our tried-and-tested grid made of magnetic elements that our sensors can reliably detect under all circumstances. This reliability is crucial to get the necessary certifications for the vehicles. However, if you want to drive anywhere instead of a fixed route, the magnets are of course no realistic solution: you need a Level 5 autonomous vehicle. Up until now, the technology wasn’t ready for this. So we decided to stick to the fixed routes we could certifiy and work our way up from there.
Self-driving shuttle at Rivium business park.

Why is it so difficult to create a completely autonomous vehicle?

Why is it so difficult to create a completely autonomous vehicle?

The biggest challenge is that your self-driving shuttle has to be able to navigate a mixed traffic environment. If everything was automated, you’d have a completely safe, controlled environment. As soon as you mix in manually operated vehicles, you create unpredictable elements. In order to react properly, your shuttle needs both highly reliable sensors to recognize its environment and a highly intelligent control unit/software to meet the foresight and intuition of a human driver. Everybody is trying to create this intelligence level, but I don’t think that we are fully there yet.

2getthere’s systems have driven more than
100000000
kilometers autonomously.

2getthere is not a manufacturer – you don’t build the vehicles yourselves. Can you tell us a little more about what your core competencies are?

2getthere is not a manufacturer – you don’t build the vehicles yourselves. Can you tell us a little more about what your core competencies are?

We are specialized in technology and product development and act as a system integrator for our customers, combining both our own and other companies’ technology into one comprehensive system. The sensors, the vehicles, external communication units – we integrate it, we install it, and we deliver it as part of a project. As such, our software platforms are crucial for us.

What does the cooperation between ZF and 2getthere look like?

What does the cooperation between ZF and 2getthere look like?

We are currently working together on sensor fusion and on our control platform. ZF offers a lot of interesting products in these areas that we want to integrate into our systems. On the other hand, we bring our project experience to the table: How do you approach all the logistics of a project – sales, marketing, certification processes, installation? What does the software to run the systems look like? And then there is of course the big advantage of having a financially strong partner like ZF by our side to provide security to customers and when it comes to public-private partnerships. I think this collaboration will be successful for both parties!
2getthere’s autonomous shuttle: ZF acquired a 60 percent share of the company in 2019.

How can automated transport systems contribute to a better mobility in our cities?

How can automated transport systems contribute to a better mobility in our cities?

Well, I think the key for improving the traffic in the city is not autonomous driving itself. The only way to reduce traffic jams and congestion is to share autonomous vehicles, which is why we focus on shuttle systems that pool several passengers together. This way, each vehicle can be used to its full potential with less cars on the streets. Another potential advantage of autonomous cars is the increased safety. Most accidents are caused by human error. However, in order to realize this benefit in mixed traffic, we need a system that connects all players, even the manually driven cars. A kind of air traffic control on the ground. This way, the autonomous vehicles would know what everybody is up to and therefore, react better.

2getthere’s shuttles and movers are used in different projects all over the world. Can you give us some examples?

2getthere’s shuttles and movers are used in different projects all over the world. Can you give us some examples?

We built a people mover system for the car-free and carbon-neutral Masdar City in Abu Dhabi in 2010. We also have a long-standing customer in the Rivium business park, close to Rotterdam, where we started with three self-driving vehicles on a 1.2 kilometers long trip in 1999 and have been extending the scope of the project ever since. Just last year, Rivium decided to upgrade to the third generation of our shuttles – and we have another exciting new step planned for 2021.
People mover system for the car-free and carbon-neutral Masdar City in Abu Dhabi.

Can you tell us more about that?

Can you tell us more about that?

Absolutely; We will once again update our shuttles and expand the area they cover. And for the first time, the route will include mixed traffic. And we have another mixed-traffic project coming up: a shuttle for Zaventem airport in Brussels. We will start with one pilot vehicle and then go up to nine shuttles. It is a big steppingstone for us, and it shows that while the short-term successes might be in closed environments, the mixed traffic projects are catching up. Both markets are growth markets.

If you had to give an estimation: How long do you think it will take until we see autonomous shuttles widely used in urban public transportation?

If you had to give an estimation: How long do you think it will take until we see autonomous shuttles widely used in urban public transportation?

I think it depends a lot on which city you pick to start off. A newly built city is easier to navigate than an old one. Very busy cities – Stuttgart, Hamburg, Munich – have a very difficult mix of all kinds of transportation. But, in my opinion, if you start slowly, in a dedicated environment such as an airport or business park, which typically feature a sizeable demand for public transportation, the market could open as soon as 2024 or 2025.
2getthere: An expert company for MaaS/TaaS solutions

About 2getthere

About 2getthere

The Utrecht-based mobility provider 2getthere has been developing and delivering automated transport solutions for 35 years, patenting its first fully automated cargo transportation system in 1985. In the 1990s, the company started shifting its focus from cargo transportation and intralogistics to public transportation. 2getthere has more than 100 million kilometers of autonomous mileage under its belt, with driverless passenger and cargo transport systems in several major cities worldwide, including Rotterdam and Singapore. 2getthere’s fully electric, driverless systems at Rivium business park (Netherlands) and Masdar City (Abu Dhabi) carried more than 14 million people. The reliability of the systems installed by 2getthere, including vehicle controls and software architecture, exceeds 99.7 percent.
Today, 2getthere has 60 employees and offices in Utrecht, Capelle aan den Ijssel and Helmond as well as the international sales and support offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Singapore. ZF acquired a 60 percent share of 2getthere in 2019.

Further related articles