«The mobility market is coalescing and therefore must be regarded as a whole.»

Jürg Michel, Project Manager «SmartShuttle», Innovation Management PostBus
Jürg Michel,
Project Manager «SmartShuttle»,
Innovation Management PostBus


First test-runs of autonomous shuttles in Switzerland

Acting on behalf of Swiss Post, PostBus Switzerland Ltd together with other partners, such as the City of Sion, the Canton Valais and the ETH Lausanne is testing two autonomous vehicles in Sion over two years. The tests are carried out within the scope of the mobility lab (Mobility Lab Sion-Valais)

The vehicles developed by Navya, a company based in France, run on electricity alone. The two shuttles are transporting up to eleven people at a maximum of 20 km/h through the streets of the capital of the Valais. There will always be specially trained personnel on board, but the vehicles run fully automatically and do not have a steering wheel, accelerator or brake pedal. However, there is an emergency button to stop the vehicle if need be. Thanks to state-of-the-art sensors, the vehicles are guided to the centimetre when moving through the streets, and they recognize any obstacles and signals on the road during the day and at night. A programme created by the Swiss start-up BestMile monitors and controls the two autonomous vehicles.

Test phase with passengers

The 4.80 m long and 2.05 m wide shuttle vehicles will be brought into service in two phases. From December 2015 until spring 2016, specialists tested the vehicles in a cordoned-off private area. Since the approval of the pilot project by the responsible authorities, the autonomous shuttles have been operating in public areas since June 2016 and are transporting people in the pedestrian zone and shared space in Sion’s old town. If the tests in this area are successful, the vehicles may also be introduced on other routes in the city of Sion.

Special permit required

Special permits are required from the authorities to carry out the pilot test in the City of Sion. PostBus is collaborating closely with the vehicle manufacturer and the relevant authorities at the federal, cantonal and municipal levels. For all companies and institutions involved in the test, passenger safety is the top priority.

Fleet management programmes with ever increasing efficiency

While this unique pilot project is being implemented in Sion, the ETH Lausanne will be working on integrating a fleet of autonomous shuttles into the local public transport system in order to create a demand-based service. The key requirement is that the shuttles should be operated in real time and take into account the various passenger needs: flexible timetables, on-demand routes, door-to-door services, etc. Once the necessary algorithms have been developed, they can be used to improve BestMile’s fleet management programme. Generally speaking, the algorithms will also help to find solutions for logistics and for public transport management. The pilot project implemented in public areas in Sion can also be used to develop the ETH Lausanne’s algorithms.

Testing the use of autonomous shuttles in public areas

PostBus and the City of Sion intend to collaborate with their partners to find out whether the use of autonomous shuttles in public areas gives customers added value. Whether or not it is possible to use the autonomous shuttles in public areas, e.g. in pedestrian and car-free zones, or on company premises is being specifically called into question. The transport company and the capital of Valais also want to gain experience in working with new personal mobility types and make it possible to connect places that were not previously serviced by public transport. However, the objective is not to replace buses on existing routes with autonomous vehicles, but rather to diversify the modes of transport in order to cover as many passenger mobility needs as possible.