To encourage user mobility, operators and transport companies aim to remove or reduce all waiting and bottlenecks between passengers’ departure point and their destination. Robotics and automation offer solutions to these problems, since they are able to improve speed and fluidity and therefore mobility. Let’s take the example of a typical journey, a commute to work. There are potentially numerous delays when using a public transport network. To start with, buying and stamping tickets are the first causes of waits and queues, which slow down access to the network.

All these actions can now be carried out on a smartphone, while on the move. This solution was provided by OT to the Thai mobile operator AIS, for instance, with the NFC SIM card, mPay Rabbit. This is contained in the smartphone and was designed to emulate and replace the smartcard usually built into contactless transport cards. The user’s personal information is embedded in the smartcard and users can top up their subscription via an app or buy single-use tickets securely while on the move. This allows passengers to cut out the ticket machine stage and access the transport network without any bottlenecks.

Automation of vehicles and infrastructure

Another aspect causing potential disruption on the transport network is vehicle traffic, whether this means buses, subway trains, etc. Automating lines makes it possible to increase frequency, reliability and regularity. While robotization of subway lines is already part of the daily lives of millions of passengers (a third of lines are now automated), the challenge for the future will be deploying driver-less trains. Many experiments into this solution are taking place, particularly in Europe. Tested in France and Switzerland, the Navia shuttle is an electric robotized and driver-less vehicle able to transport up to eight passengers within the city center at a maximum speed of 20km/h. Equipped with laser range- finders and side sensors, it analyses trajectory and obstacles to avoid in real time, to carry passengers smoothly to their destination while at the same time contributing to reducing pollution.

These systems are currently designed as add-ons for conventional public transport, and are intended for use in restricted situations, such as airports, conference centers, pedestrianized city centres, etc. However the public transport of the future involves more than just the robotization of the driving function. Maintenance issues will also be an integral part of the robotization function. Enabling buses to communicate directly with the garage in the event of a technical problem via an integrated SIM card, to prevent breakdowns, transmit information concerning wear and tear to parts and automatically recharge batteries.

A final area of research is the power reserve of vehicles. Researchers from the Lausanne polytechnical school have already developed an ultra-fast solution for recharging the batteries of electric buses. At each stop, the bus’ batteries are connected to a robotic arm which recharges them for 15 seconds, the time required to allow users on and off the bus. This charge allows the bus to continue its journey to the next station, ensuring a totally autonomous transport service. Together, all these solutions are paving the way for the public transport of the future, as imagined in science-fiction films and novels: autonomous means of transport, in permanent operation and entirely robotized…