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Das automatisierte HEAT-Fahrzeug biegt in der Speicherstadt ab

The HEAT project

The future is self-driving


As trailblazers in the City, we aim to keep Hamburg moving in ever more flexible ways. That’s what we did 100 years ago with the first U-Bahn, today it’s with electrobuses. And tomorrow? We are still boldly taking up the challenge. That’s why we ran trials of the new self-driving technology in our research and development project HEAT (Hamburg Electric Autonomous Transportation) from 2019 to October 2021.

The idea: together with our partners from business and science, HOCHBAHN investigated whether self-driving minibuses might be a useful complement to the public transport options in future. For instance where it doesn’t make economic sense to operate full-size vehicles – in the suburbs or at off-peak times.   

Automated travel with passengers – at the ITS World Congress too

The project was among the first worldwide to realize driverless operation in public transport on a defined route with a vehicle assistant who doesn’t actually drive. Passengers were able to take a seat on board for the first time in October 2020 for an automated ride through the HafenCity at speeds up to 25 km/h. From summer 2021 up to the completion of the project, HEAT ran with passengers on the final route of 1.8 kilometres with five stops. The project was accompanied by a whole range of passenger surveys. These aimed to record accurately the needs people had when using a self-driving transport system, but also possible barriers to its acceptance.   

As one of the highlights of the project, HEAT was also presented to a global public at the ITS World Congress on smart mobility in Hamburg in October 2021.

HEAT: this is how it works

Worldwide unique technology in operation 

The special feature of HEAT: a worldwide unique technology consisting of three subsystems operates in the background. Besides the vehicle’s own perception via cameras, radar and laser measurement, the electrically powered minibus also accessed other sources. Roadside masts with sensors along the route expanded the bus’s field of view, thus enabling anticipatory driving and higher speeds compared with other projects. In addition, the vehicle used a HD map provided by the City of Hamburg which is accurate to within a few centimetres.

The third subsystem was continuous monitoring by the HOCHBAHN control centre, which was responsible for incident management, i.e. intervening if critical situations occur during operation. You can find out more about how these systems interact in our explanatory HEAT film.

Our conclusion from the project now completed is: we, HOCHBAHN and our project partners, see HEAT as a significant milestone in the development of technological solutions to the ready-to-market stage   and establishing driverless transport as a supplement to existing public transport options. And now we have to get on with fine-tuning the future …

The route in HafenCity

Streckenkarte des HEAT-Busses