Arctic Autonomy

A trio of companies with unique experience in operating automated vehicles in harsh conditions teams for a public test in the Arctic Circle.

A battery electric version of Toyota’s Proace commercial van is the vehicle platform for a harsh-weather automated-driving pilot program in Norway. (Sensible 4)

In what is billed as “the most extensive pilot [program] in challenging weather conditions, ever,” a trio of Nordic companies is prepping an autonomous public-transport service in Bodø, a Norwegian city north of the Arctic Circle, to begin in February 2022. The program plans to field two modified Toyota Proace electric vehicles (EVs) operating on a 3.6-km (2.2-mile) route in the city center as a supplement to the conventional public-transportation network.

The Norwegian city in which the automated-driving vans will operate is said to sometimes experience three seasons in one day – just the harsh environmental conditions under which program participants wish to test. Here, a similarly-equipped van operates in Finland. (Sensible 4)

Norway’s Mobility Forus will operate the vehicles, which use Finland-based tech company Sensible 4’s “all-weather” automated-driving software and a data and supervision platform from Danish company Holo, which manages and implements autonomous-vehicle projects in Europe. The companies are collaborating to demonstrate that combining their unique abilities will help development of automated-driving technology for inclement-weather regions.

“Self-driving fleet operation on public streets in urban areas is challenging for any autonomous technology,” said Harri Santamala, Sensible 4’s CEO. “Doing it in a city located above the Arctic Circle is even more challenging,” he continued. The Toyota Proace electric vans will operate autonomously, said Sensible 4 in a release, “but in keeping with Norwegian law, there will be a safety driver on board to take over operations if necessary.”

AV operations in the cruelest month

February is the coldest month of the year in Bodø, Sensible 4 claimed, with an average of 11 days of snow and just 6.5 hours of daylight each day. “Norway is at the forefront of the development of autonomous public transportation and has become a key market for Sensible 4. This pilot is proof that our autonomous driving software truly is capable of driving in all weather conditions,” Santamala said.

Harri Santamala, Sensible 4’s CEO and co-founder. (Sensible 4)

Sensible 4 develops full-stack automated-driving software that it said can adapt any vehicle for automated driving. The company’s software collates information from a variety of vehicle sensors that enables operation “in all weather conditions, including snowfall and fog.” The company said that in 2022 it will launch what it claims as a world-first commercial all-weather software product, Dawn, for driverless last-mile shuttles operating with SAE Level 4 automation.

“It is the first time in the world that a pilot project of autonomous technology is carried out on this scale in an Arctic climate,” said Siri Vasshaug, project manager for Smarter Transport Bodø. “Bodø is known for having three seasons in one day,” he added. “If this works in Bodø, it works everywhere.”

Parking around Bodø’s city center and in the vicinity of the public hospital has been an issue for the city, and the citizens have for some time requested a dedicated public-transportation route that serves the hospital, explained Mobility Forus CEO Linn Terese Lohne Marken. “We believe that the scheduled route will provide an attractive and practical alternative to private driving for the population in general.”

Marken added that the project’s focus will be on safety and reliability. “Our experience with supervising autonomous operations means that we can use our established procedures for operational stability in this project. We are happy to contribute with our knowledge, where we can increase learnings by using everyday operational data.”