IDTechEx has issued the first in-depth report on this called, Robot Shuttles and Autonomous Buses 2020-2040. Robot shuttles are an important new, reconfigurable form of transportation for goods and people that may even function as mobile offices, workshops, restaurants and more. It finds that the heart of the subject is upright, boxy, 8-20 person vehicles that are symmetrical like a small train so they never do a U turn. Small footprint, all-round vision, large doors, quiet, zero emission, they can go indoors and over piazzas and roads and are able perform many different tasks even in one day. Primarily intended for intensive urban use, they are gated to never exceed a determined speed, typically in the range 50-60 kph.
It all adds up to a new form of transport backed by both huge companies like Toyota and Baidu and startups, one having raised one billion dollars for the task. Their trials explore many possible applications, from empowering the poor and disabled, to viably filing in gaps in the transportation network and replacing hopelessly underutilised vehicles such as private cars, reducing congestion and cost.
Out of 36 different robot shuttle models and precursors examined in fifteen countries and deployed in twenty, IDTechEx identifies nine with excellent design, successful trials, strong backing and imaginative multi-purposing and taking the mainstream 14 or so passengers when in bus mode. A few have over 100 units deployed. However, the technology for fully independent "Level 5" robot shuttles will not be widely deployable until later in the decade. Currently, there is usually tele-supervision and a supervisor on board so what is all the fuss about?
IDTechEx finds that robot shuttles read to most of the strong societal trends now with us. They include the move to cities, the demand for travel for all, including those that cannot afford or manage existing forms and those located where demand does not justify a regular bus. Road congestion must be eliminated by banning those little used and weakly filled vehicles such as private cars from cities and introducing vehicles intensively used because they reconfigure in use, even go indoors, move sideways and arrive at your door. From Finland to Japan trials show promise in viably reinstating feeder buses from villages to cities, previously abandoned because of poor usage and losses resulting.
In Switzerland, the robot Postbus even manages narrow bridges and narrow roads with both post and passengers. Tourists love the all-round vision of the robot shuttle but this is only a beginning.
IDTechEx predicts that robot shuttles will never plug in. Smart windows selling advertising and making electricity, vehicle-to-grid income and other income streams? Last mile freight is another, all raising the prospect of free people travel on the back of it. An Amazon delivery and school bus robot shuttle has been conceived. Free of charge for the school? At the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics Toyota will transport the disabled more efficiently, safely and pleasurably using its new robot shuttles. Toyota explores modes such as freighter, mobile shop and office.
However, IDTechEx finds impediments. A large amount of electricity and money is currently needed both for the robotics and the vehicles. That will be overcome with a tsunami of new technologies. Software and telecom companies are often leading but it is a long game, delayed by inadequate autonomy as yet so IDTechEx believes Daimler is right to shun robot shuttles to catch up in modern truck technology.
The Executive Summary presents the dreams, 10 primary conclusions, the 36 models and their 20 projects, the number deployed by the leaders, the big differences from robotaxis covered in a sister IDTechEx report. It picks winners on IDTechEx criteria and forecasts 20 years ahead with prices
tumbling for identified reasons and a tipping point of sales where full Level 5 autonomy can be widespread. Even the overall bus and the autonomous large bus market is forecasted. See graphs of the robot shuttle hardware business of tens of billions of dollars emerging and additionally the market for associated services.
The Introduction talks through the needs, issues, originality and impediments. Chapter 3 critically appraises the 36 robot shuttle companies/models in 15 countries in detail with partners named, stated objectives and dreams of participants with a profusion of photographs and drawings and SOFT reports of each.
Chapter 4 explains the huge advances in vehicle technology beyond autonomy that are ahead for robot shuttles and key to major success, from solar, supercapacitor, color changing and self-healing bodywork to smart glass, 360 degree wheels and much more. Autonomy makes the vehicle work but these new structures provide a profusion of income streams and business cases, long life and near zero maintenance. The analysis benchmarks other industries where they are ahead with these vehicle technologies.
Chapter 5 is a deep dive into the autonomy technologies including their integration, cost and power reduction ahead plus challenges. That includes detail about lidar, radar, cameras, sensor fusion and more. Chapter 6 is a detailed analysis of cost and income streams, with the most detailed forecasts and background data for buses, autonomous buses, robot shuttles and earning streams 2020-2040. It all makes the IDTechEx report, Robot Shuttles and Autonomous Buses 2020-2040 exceptionally thorough, insightful and up-to-date, using new information and interviews by PhD level globetrotting analysts from IDTechEx interviewing in local languages.
Top image: EPFL