NEWSBYTE Robot shuttles will become significant, flexible components of smart cities over the next 20 years, according to a report from technology analyst firm, IDTechEx.

The 595-page survey, Robot Shuttles for Smart Cities 2021-2041, explains that unlike driverless cars and taxis, which are an evolution of existing vehicles, smart shuttles are an entirely new form of urban transport created by at least 40 organisations worldwide.

The new paradigm is autonomous electric vehicles that can carry 10-25 passengers, are speed-gated at between 30 and 60km an hour (18-36 mph), are front/back symmetrical, and can travel in any direction, including sideways, without the need for u-turns.

This means they can move safely and quietly through areas where cars are banned, such as along paths and through shopping malls. Sliding doors offer fast entry and exit, including for wheelchair users.

This ubiquity in public spaces will give them economic and accessibility advantages that other vehicles will struggle to match, says the report.

“Uniquely, robot shuttles are made to be rapidly reconfigurable for multiple tasks even in one day with many formats, signage changes, and so on,” it says.

“Most have standing room, and all-round large windows prevent claustrophobia compared to a robotaxi. The windows can contain new microLEDs selling advertising. Standing room minimizes cost and road footprint per passenger.”

Some of this new generation of vehicles are designed to be modular and adaptable, with different bodies that can be attached to a standard chassis.

This means that vehicles can be rapidly configured for a range of different tasks, such as school runs, local bus services, mobile library or healthcare services, fast food, events, and last-mile deliveries.

Raghu Das CEO of IDTechEx, said, “Toyota has partnered with REE Automotive in Israel, which has an exceptionally wide, flat vehicle platform by putting the powertrain in the wheel arches and wheels. That enables fast repurposing with modules.

“Meanwhile, Auve Tech in Estonia targets waste disposal, not just people and parcels, by repurposing its robot shuttles.

“Dubai promises that 4,000 robot shuttles will be deployed by 2030, starting with MaaS [mobility as a service] applications, and GM says its Cruise robot shuttle has been chosen.

“Significantly, GM sees its stripped-down version serving as a commercial delivery van, easily replacing the tram doors on the side with a larger rolling garage door to access parcels. It hopes to launch both capabilities in 2022.

“We applaud such initiatives. They are complementary to the parallel rollout of fixed-wing, vertical take-off and landing [VTOL], electric aircraft, because those will mainly go beyond the city.”