Three German suppliers are developing versatile people-mover shuttles that could lead to large-scale use of commercial self-driving fleets.
Robert Bosch, Continental and ZF Friedrichshafen showcased city shuttles that transport travelers on "the first or last mile" of their trips.
And at least one of these tall, boxy vehicles — some of which can carry up to 15 passengers — could someday double as a delivery van for fleet operators such as Amazon, the Postal Service and FedEx.
In theory, these vehicles would remain in continuous operation to amortize the hefty cost of their sensors, computers and upkeep, said Michael Hankel, a ZF board member.
"There is huge interest among our customers and huge interest in the business case," Hankel said. "These vehicles can be driving 24 hours a day."
The three suppliers showcased their concepts this month at CES in Las Vegas:
- ZF displayed a shuttle called e.Go Mover, which transports up to 15 people. Transdev, a French company, plans to introduce it as a people mover in 2020. ZF also displayed the Innovation Van, which would deliver packages. ZF and Deutsche Post DHL — Germany's largest mail service — are developing a self-driving delivery truck.
- Continental unveiled its Cube shuttle with robotic dogs that carry packages from the vehicle to a customer's doorstep. Continental owns a stake in ride-hailing service EasyMile, which launched a Cube-like self-driving shuttle in France.
- Bosch introduced the IoT shuttle concept, which seats four. The company has not shared plans for commercial use, but it cites a forecast by consultancy Roland Berger that 2.5 million ride-sharing shuttles will be on the road worldwide by 2025.
Bosch intends to remain a supplier and not become a vehicle maker, the company makes clear. But Bosch has been evolving to do more development work for customers, including providing entire powertrain plans for automaker startups, such as the Chinese venture Byton.
Other suppliers may seek a niche in the market. Magna International supplies sensors and other components to May Mobility, an Ann Arbor, Mich., startup that has launched an autonomous shuttle service in Detroit.