Ericsson and partners have marked new trials for safety features as part of a 5G self-driving bus project that kicked off in Sweden last year.

The project, 5G Ride, is exploring how high-bandwidth and low latency features of 5G combined with remote monitoring of vehicles could help to safely introduce electric self-driving buses as a more efficient model for smart public transportation in urban areas.

Partners on the Ericsson-backed project include mobile operator Telia, Intel, Urban ICT Arena, bus operator Keolis, and T-Engineering.

Key to the initiative is the concept of a Connected Control Tower – where operators in a central control tower that’s connected to the bus via a 5G network can monitor, remotely command and if necessary, step in to control the vehicle.

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The larger vision is cost-effective and sustainable public transport, with control tower operators able to manage entire fleets of self-driving electric vehicles for better traffic planning and optimized routes.

Telia’s network provides the 5G connectivity while Ericsson brings technical solutions designed for the 5G-connected control tower.

Digital safety features looked at during the most recent test drives in Kista, Stockholm, focused not only on getting the bus from point A to point B safely, but also boosting security for passengers onboard. For example, enabling passengers to easily contact control tower operators via digital interfaces on the bus.

Jan Jansson, Mobility Services Developer at bus operator Keolis, pointed to how the experience could emulate the current passenger experience for peace of mind.

“On today’s buses, you can turn to the driver for help. It is a security for the passengers, especially for older person, that you feel welcome and taken care of,” Jansson said in the announcement. “With the help of new technology, we can create the same experience on self-driving buses. It can be about quickly getting in touch with the operators in the control tower via simple digital interfaces on the buses.”

Intel’s role is focused on providing on-bus analytics to support rider safety features, while T-Engineering developed the self-driving tech and worked closely with Ericsson to integrate the minibus and control tower.

AI and analytics also play a key role. The partners trialed a concept where AI analyzes data from sensors on the vehicle in order to preemptively alert control tower operators in case of an emergency or to identify lost passenger objects that may have accidently been left behind.

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A video of a trial demo drive shows a 5G-connected self-driving minibus successfully navigating a route, sending data to the connected control tower and receiving information about potential roadblocks or hazards. The control tower continuously monitored the vehicle while sending alerts.

In the demo, a dashboard showed a live video feed, variety of stats and inputs, including the bus location, speed, turn lights, steering wheel and geofence alerts, among others, shared with the connected control tower.  It also kept taps on 5G network throughput and latency, which regularly surpassed 1 Gbps and below 10ms, respectively with above 95% reliability.

The 5G network, built with Ericsson, help the control tower operator and minibus to communicate with each other in real time.

“The 5G network’s unique technical features, including extremely high data speeds combined with low latency, means that the connected buses can respond in real time to commands from the centralized control tower,” said Marcus Gårdman, Lead Design Technologist at Ericsson. “This delivers a critical and powerful foundation for the safe and secure remote-control of vehicles and is an important step to manage buses and public transport in a smart and sustainable way.”

The latest tests took place using the self-driving 5G Ride electric minibus in Kista, Stockholm. The same bus debuted as part of the project on the island of Djurgården in September 2020. For that effort Ericsson deployed gear along a temporary route that took passengers in the self-driving bus to popular tourist destinations during a two-week pilot.

Sweden’s research and development agency Vinnova, and Drive Sweden are also backing the project.  

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