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From smart crosswalks to hydrogen-powered self-driving buses – Estonia’s innovative solutions for intelligent mobility are ready to conquer the world

Innovative visions for intelligent mobility and transportation, created in Estonia, are on offer for investment and cooperation as a top-level ITS delegation from Estonia visits the ITS World Congress in Hamburg.

“We look forward to networking with the Estonian ITS community and especially to potential cooperation activities with the public and private sectors here in Germany,” Riina Leminsky, Head of the Estonian Business Development Enterprise Estonia in Germany, Austria and Switzerland said. “Hamburg possessing the 1st place in the Smart City Index in Germany and Estonia being the world’s technology pioneer when it comes to AI, digitization and technology transfer, there are possibilities for the parties to work together even more closely.”

At the congress, several high level meetings will be held, including one between the members of the delegation and Hamburg’s Senator for Economic Affairs Michael Westhagemann as well as a discussion with Hamburg’s Authority for Transportation and Mobility. “The cooperation in the Baltic Sea region has a long tradition for Hamburg as a Hanseatic city,” Senator Westhagemann commented. “Estonia is young, modern and innovative, and has also been a reliable partner for us for years. We look with interest at Estonia as a digital pioneer in the areas of e-government, cyber security and smart infrastructure as well as its very lively startup scene.”

“In addition to common interests, we have many points of contact, especially when it comes to transport and logistics. We are therefore very pleased that Estonia will be represented at the ITS World Congress 2021 in Hamburg. As a showcase for smart mobility and logistics solutions of the future, around 15,000 visitors can come into direct exchange with experts and have the opportunity to experience numerous projects for themselves.”

As the EU has set more than one ambitious goal: reducing Greenhouses gases by 90 per cent and applying the “Vision Zero”, the goal to avoid all traffic fatalities, close cooperation is needed between the member states and Europe’s private sector. Estonia has an important role to play, being Europe’s pioneer for sustainable and digital technologies, including in the public sector.

“In Estonia, we believe the solution to challenges of mobility and transport can be found in two things: innovation and digialisation, ” Maarja Rannama, the CEO of ITS Estonia said.

From unmanned parcel delivery to self-driving hydrogen buses

Estonia was one of the first countries in the world that, already in 2016, legalized testing of self-driving vehicles on public roads. Since 2017, autonomous vehicles have been an integral part of the last-mile logistics. Tallinn is among several cities across the globe, where Estonian-developed Starship Technologies delivery robots operate (one of the other Starship bases being the venue for the ITS World Congress, Hamburg). And Estonia has also been able to integrate autonomous vehicles as an integral part of its public transport system – which is not too common.

But that is certainly not it. Recent developments make the world’s ITS community look at Estonia again. In April 2021, Estonia was the first country in Europe to approve the use of an unmanned delivery vehicles for the last mile on public roads – meaning basically that the approved unmanned delivery vehicles are able to drive wherever a manned delivery vehicle can drive. In the summer of 2021, the world’s first autonomous hydrogen vehicle was presented in Estonia’s 2nd largest town, Tartu, by the Estonian company AuveTech.

Smart pedestrian crosswalks “talking” to self-driving vehicles

But autonomous vehicles being on the roads also creates a need for a new ecosystem to gather data, share it, and – quite literally – check that the way is paved for the autonomous vehicles.

One of the products developed by Bercman Technologies, a company publicly listed on Nasdaq Baltic’s First North alternative Stock Exchange, is a smart pedestrian crosswalk.

Meant to be safe places to cross the roads, statistically speaking, crosswalks are actually some of the most dangerous places for pederstrians – as this is where the vehicles’ and pedestrians’ roads actually cross. One of Bercman’s products, the Smart Pedestrian Crosswalk, is a multifunctional device, which improves traffic safety on unregulated pedestrian crosswalks. Its main task is to improve the awareness of road users located nearby and to notify them of probable traffic hazard. The system is adaptive, so it reacts accordingly to each situation. “Our products detect vehicle types, measure their relative speeds, collect anonymous statistics and monitor the driver behavior on the road. Smarter vehicles require smarter roads,” the CEO of Bercman Technologies, Mart Suurkask, told Invest Estonia a few months ago. The system is smart and – as expected – developed in a way that it can “talk” to autonomous vehicles and even e-Pavement, a solution provided by another Estonian company to duplicate traffic lights on the road surface.

From a full digital twin of the country to satellite-based monitoring

The need for 3D geo-data keeps growing – not only due to the new needs of autonomous traffic – but also to make construction and spatial planning considerably easier. Estonia is at the forefront of gathering and using 3D geodata, being the first country in the world that has a complete digital twin – meaning that each Estonia’s building, both above and below the ground, can be seen in 3D in a single solution. EyeVi Technologies, presented at the World Congress, is a geospatial AI-powered startup that provides on-demand mapping technology to make road infrastructure management more sustainable and help to reduce the upkeep costs. They aim to eliminate bottlenecks in predictive maintenance, traffic management and safety auditing.

Satellite-based technologies are also in use to monitor crucial infrastructure objects, such as bridges or railways. Estonian company Datel has exported a solution called Sille to – among other countries – the United States, where it provides deformation surveys for large infrastructure objects that are very difficult to measure with traditional methods (bridges, lifted intersections).

On a smaller but equally important level, Estonian companies also use specially designed technology for ensuring the quality of the road pavement during construction works, including innovative solutions provided by Teede Tehnokeskus.

Micromobility and demand-responsive public transportation

It is not a coincidence that Estonia is both, one of the few countries across the globe, offering free public transportation (limitations apply but the system is effectively in use in the capital Tallinn) to its residents and the country creating solutions that make public transportation easier to use and more convenient. According to predictions, around 70% of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. Smart and simple-to-use ticketing, payment and real-time passenger information systems created by Ridango have already been exported to several countries across the world, allowing public transportation users to pay a fare directly at a validator, using a bank card. At the same time, novel transportation solutions such as demand-responsive public transportation are being tested in the Estonian rural areas – a solution being developed by Modern Mobility.

What can also be seen, is the importance of micromobility – both in Estonia and globally – growing. CEO of Bikeep, a company providing smart bike docks, scooter parking and rental stations, and smart lockers, Kristjan Lind recently told Invest Estonia that he is happy that people take care of their health and stressed the need to make moving with bikes as comfortable as possible. It all translates to the lifestyle and infrastructure, he concluded.

But the infrastructure is not yet that great. As Lind explained: “The main problems commuters have are divided into three main groups: lack of parking spots, bike theft, and bad or unsafe commuting situations. Another emerging topic is how to charge e-bikes and scooters, which need to be thought through already in the planning phase. Since e-bike sales increase substantially year by year, new stations should have a charging possibility already in the initial project.”

“When we started with Bikeep, there was little to none information on bike parking. Many cities didn’t have the infrastructure for cyclists, but we have seen a massive change in that during the last few years. We have a remarkable example of an innovative solution from New-Zealand, where Bikeep stations are used with outdoor billboards for advertisement, creating a smart business model, where the stations are for free to use and the financing comes from advertisement fees,” Lind added.

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