Hamburg Electric Autonomous Transportation or HEAT is a unique research and development project that will integrate an autonomous shuttle bus into regular street traffic in Hamburg’s HafenCity. Five meters long, weighing just under three tons, powered emission-free with electricity, the minibus will provide space for up to ten passengers as of mid-2020. Developed by IAV, the minibus has two benches with four seats each and a foldable bench with two more seats and is even equipped with an access ramp enabling barrier-free access.

The ambitious goal of the HEAT research and development project is to prove that self-driving minibuses can be fully and safely integrated into street traffic as part of a city’s public transport system. The HEAT minibus will be tested under real conditions in public streets and should, as planned, be capable of autonomous driving at speeds of up to 50 kilometres per hour. To achieve this goal, the minibus is equipped with cameras, radar and lidar, as well as supplementary intelligent infrastructure along its route, including sensors and a digital communications system, to keep the vehicle in constant digital communication with both its surroundings and with the central HOCHBAHN control. This way HOCHBAHN’s control centre can continually monitor the progress of the minibus and can make driving commands depending on the specific traffic situation. All in all, the system, comprised of vehicle, roadside infrastructure and control centre, ensures a high degree of safety and availability of autonomous operation.

The HEAT project is taking a step-by-step approach to testing, first with the minibus running along a defined route without passengers and accompanied by a professional vehicle attendant who can immediately take control if necessary. In mid-2020, the minibus will begin operating both with passengers and a vehicle attendant on board. By the time the ITS World Congress takes place in Hamburg in October 2021, the minibus should be operating autonomously according to SAE Level 4 specifications.

The Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg has commitments for a total of €3.7 million in funding for the HEAT project. Hamburg’s Ministry for Economics, Transport and Innovation (BWVI), the city’s Department of Roads, Bridges and Water (LSBG) and Hamburg Verkehrsanlagen GmbH (HHVA) account for €2.7 million of this sum. HOCHBAHN is receiving around €1 million for the project management and is bearing a further €1.5 million from its budget.

Project partners include Hamburger Hochbahn AG, IAV, Siemens Mobility GmbH, IKEM – the Institute for Climate Protection, Energy and Mobility, and the German Aerospace Center e.V. (DLR).