Israel’s Ministry of Transport, the Israel Innovation Authority, and Ayalon Highways, have jointly the launch of an autonomous bus pilot in the country. Four groups comprised of domestic and international transport and technology companies will operate autonomous bus routes under the pilot.

The first is Metropolin, B.G. Motors, Karsan (Turkey), Adastec (Michigan, USA), Applied Autonomy (Norway) and Ottopia (Israel). The second is Egged, who will work with an unannounced French technology company. Dan, Via (Israel), EasyMile (France), Enigmatos (Israel) and Ottopia (Israel) form the third group, while Nateev Express and Imagry (Israel) comprise the fourth.

In the coming months the winning corporations are expected to begin a two-year pilot program operating autonomous buses, mutually benefitting from an investment of NIS 61 million ($17.7 million) – half of which comes from government funding. Upon completion of the program, the winning corporations are expected to begin leveraging their autonomous buses for commercial operations.

As part of the pilot, the groups will independently operate public transport services on public roads, transporting passengers with the approval of the Ministry of Transport’s National Public Transport Authority. This will be achieved in two stages that will work to examine the viability of integrating autonomous vehicles into Israel’s public transport system.

During the first stage, the winning companies will carry out private autonomous pilots in a closed experimental area as well as dedicated operational areas. Through these tests, the companies will prove the technological, regulatory, safety and business feasibility of their autonomous systems. In the second stage, the companies will begin operating autonomous bus lines on public roads, with operations scaling progressively through the pilot’s two-year period.

Through the trial, Israel’s Ministry of Transport hopes to reduce traffic congestion in the country – streamlining public transport, enhancing safety, and improving the service and passenger experience. The initiative is also expected to help Israel and its transport authorities resolve driver shortages. Here it looks to transition to a fleet of autonomous buses operating without a safety driver (SAE J3016 L4) within a few years.

The initiative will similarly help Israel identify the infrastructure required to operate an autonomous public transport system, while testing the business organizational capabilities of public transport operators. Here, the aim is for companies that successfully pass the pilot to continue operations and expand their autonomous public transport services.