Researchers test platooning for more flexible public transport

June 03, 2021 // By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Researchers test platooning for more flexible public transport
Electric and automated buses could make local public transport safer and more efficient. The problem: articulated buses or those with passenger trailers need too much energy and are not flexible enough to be able to react to strongly fluctuating passenger numbers. Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have an idea how to solve the problem: with platooning. This radio technology makes it possible to drive several vehicles in close succession by means of electronic control, thus forming a convoy that can be adapted to the respective demand as required.

With platooning, only the vehicle in front needs to be controlled by a driver; all those following can follow automatically. The units of the formation are not connected physically, but only information-technically - via a radio bridge with an extremely short reaction time. The electronic connection can be easily disconnected and platoons thus easily divided and reconnected. This would enable providers of transport services to optimally adapt bus operations to demand depending on the time of day or route - especially in urban and suburban environments.

KIT has now started a corresponding research and evaluation programme together with the municipal transport operators of the city of Munich. The transport companies plan to replace all diesel buses with electrically powered vehicles in the long term. In order to react to fluctuations in demand in public transport on different days or at different times of the day, passenger trailers have been used here so far. "If the towing vehicles were electrified, enormous amounts of electrical energy would have to be used to move the trailers along," states Professor Eric Sax, head of the Institute for Information Processing Technology (ITIV) at KIT. Additionally motorising the trailer is neither cost- nor energy-efficient. On the other hand, a purely electronic and information-technological coupling, as in platooning, allows complete vehicles to be coupled. "Since common vehicle types are used in this process, electrification is easier and cheaper," says the expert.

"We are now developing the concepts for platooning city buses and then the corresponding algorithms for automation," says Nicole Rossel from ITIV. These will then be used in a bus prototype that the KIT researchers will realise together with the Munich public transport company (SWM) and the Dutch electric bus manufacturer EBUSCO by mid-2022. This will then be tested on the new test field for electrified and automated vehicles in local public transport in the Bavarian capital. The aim is

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