Deutsche Bahn (DB) and the Rhine/Main Regional Transport Association (RMV) have launched a Level 4 autonomous shuttle service in the cities of Darmstadt and Offenbach in Germany. The announcement follows the country’s Federal Motor Transport Authority (Kraftfahrtbundesamt) issuing the corresponding permit for L4 test drives to the companies.

The name of the AV pilot, KIRA, stands for ‘AI-based regular operation of autonomous on-demand transport services’. KIRA’s shuttles will operate within the service areas of the regional transport companies HEAG mobilo and Kreisverkehrsgesellschaft Offenbach (kvgOF). While the shuttles will not initially be available for public use, residents in the local area will soon be able to register to be ‘test riders’ and use a dedicated smartphone app to book a shuttle on demand.

KIRA’s first rides, without passengers, will focus on testing the Mobileye self-driving system installed in its shuttles – where the system will check the map data of the operating area to ensure that all data points along the road are correct. Throughout this testing, and any further testing endeavors, the shuttles will be monitored by dedicated Technical Supervision staff at all times.

The operator of the autonomous vehicles is DB Regio Bus Mitte. Ioki, a DB company, will provide the software for booking and route planning, while also integrating software components from various technology partners. Mobileye, another partner of the KIRA pilot, is providing the enabling software and hardware for the shuttle’s autonomous driving system.

DB and RMV confirmed that, although, the test and implementation phase of their project is initially scheduled until the end of 2024, an extension has already been planned. The KIRA research project is financially supported by the Federal Ministry of Digital and Transport (BMDV) with a total of around €2.2 million ($2.3 million / £1.8 million) and by the state of Hesse.