Self-driving vehicle pilot successful in Finland during extreme weather

3 May 2022

Interior of an autonomous Toyota Proace in Hervanta, a campus suburb in Tampere, Finland. Image: Sensible 4

Autonomous vehicles had to deal with temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius, heavy snowfalls and slippery roads during a pilot project in Finland.

Finnish self-driving tech company Sensible 4 said today (3 May) that it has successfully completed an autonomous driving pilot, despite facing challenging weather conditions.

The pilot aimed to see how autonomous vehicles work with public transportation networks and to collect feedback from users. It was part of the EU-funded SHOW project, which is investigating how autonomous vehicles could work within urban transportation networks.

Two self-driving Toyota Proace vehicles were used as feeder traffic for a tram line in the city of Tampere in Finland. During the pilot exercise, the vehicles encountered extreme weather conditions such as temperatures below 20 degrees Celsius, heavy snowfalls and slippery roads.

“Of course, in Finland, snowing is everyday life in the wintertime,” Sensible 4 CBO Jussi Suomela said. “This time it reached almost an extreme level as there were piles of snow on the way and snowploughs had a hard time keeping the roads open.”

Two self-driving Toyota Proace vehicles, one white and one black, on snowy terrain with trees in the background. Both vehicles have 'I'm Driverless' written on the side in purple.

Two self-driving Toyota Proace vehicles were used during the pilot. Image: Sensible 4

Sensible 4 is developing software for last-mile autonomous vehicles in all weather conditions.

The tech company said it learned how freezing rain can affect the vehicle hardware, how to adjust to alternate-side parking and how to adapt to snowploughing tracks that are far from bus stops.

“This pilot was valuable for understanding the customer and end-user needs better, including especially the accessibility aspects,” Suomela said. “The weather was exceptionally snowy but the software and vehicles performed well and we were able to collect important test data of the extreme conditions and experience of the challenging weather.”

Sensible 4 said the passenger feedback was positive overall and mainly focused on improving accessibility for people with disabilities.

Mika Kulmala, project manager for the city of Tampere, said the self-driving vehicles “ran smoothly and felt safe”. He added that he can see these types of vehicles being used in the future to complement public transport networks for certain routes.

“We still need more testing to ensure the reliability in production use, and that the service either brings cost-saving in the areas they are being used or gives better service level to the population with the same costs,” Kulmala said.

Self-driving cars have seen advancements in leaps and bounds in recent years. Last month, the UK revealed planned changes to its highway code to pave the way for fully self-driving cars to hit the roads as soon as the second half of this year.

10 things you need to know direct to your inbox every weekday. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of essential sci-tech news.

Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic