the flop of autonomous shuttles, plagued by technical problems


The autonomous shuttle in the Bois de Vincennes (Paris), in the test phase, in 2017.

On the Pierre-de-Coubertin car park, in Chevreuse (Yvelines), a temporary panel boasts the “100% electric autonomous shuttle”, chartered by the RATP, which connects to the RER station of Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse, located 2 kilometers away. In the middle of the day, the car park with around 150 spaces, away from the village center, is only frequented by schoolchildren, on bicycles or scooters, or who are about to get into their parent’s car.

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But autonomous shuttle, period. Rémy, who willingly reveals his age, 51, but not his last name, works for a pruning company. He has already come across the driverless shuttle, in service since September, but it hasn’t shown up for two good weeks. “When I see it, there are one or two guys in it, and sometimes a Kangoo driving in front. When we are behind, on the road, we drag ourselves. » And users? “A lot of people are looking at the sign, but I’ve never seen a traveler get off the shuttle”he blurts out.

Information taken from the RATP, the vehicle, produced by the French start-up Milla, “wasn’t working that day due to technical issues”. However, we had completed the necessary online registration form and consulted the operating hours, “from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.”according to the RATP website, even if the provisional panel indicates “8 a.m. to 11.30 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.”.

Statement of failure

Experiments with autonomous shuttles have been going on for years, without ever really convincing. Admittedly, on the day of the inauguration, the vehicle manufacturer, the transport operator and local elected officials, before cutting the ribbon, were enthusiastic about “the last mile solution” and celebrate the “sustainable and smart city”.

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But lidars and other sensors do not prevent disappointments. At La Défense, the machines of the manufacturer Navya which had been traveling the forecourt at the expense of Ile-de-France Mobilités since July 2017 had ceased to circulate two years later, an acknowledgment of failure admitted by the public establishment Paris-la Défense. The machines were blocked at the slightest obstacle and dawdled at the speed of a pedestrian.

In Rennes (Ille-et-Vilaine), on the Beaulieu university campus, in November 2019, in an empty Navya shuttle, the operator justified the slowness by the drizzle which wet the roadway that day. It could have been worse : “In case of heavy rain, the sensors are clogged”, she admitted. The palm of the fiasco undoubtedly goes to the shuttle launched on September 20 on a cycle path in Gap, transformed for the needs of the exercise into a test area. The vehicle was driven for a few hours before breaking down and being taken off the road. According to the magazine LyonMagthe experiment cost 450,000 euros of public money.

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