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In many urban environments, the usage of the private automobile has led to severe problems with respect of pollution, noise, safety and general degradation of the quality of life. Alternative solutions to the private automobile with the same flexibility now appear with a new concept of mobility : the automobile is part of the public transportation system and is used as a complement to mass transit and non-motorised transportation.
These concepts of new mobility using the advantages of the automobile but in the form of a public system have started with car-sharing : a small fleet of cars is shared among a large number of users. First available on a very limited basis, these systems have been extended to many cities in Switzerland with the possibility to get a car at both ends of a trip by train. This concept, very popular now in many countries with several thousands of regular users is being extended with modern fleet management technologies in order to allow also very small trips and no need to return the car to its point of origin (projects Praxitèle and Liselec in France).
However, these system work well only in specific areas where the demand is properly structured. Furthermore, they do not offer a door to door service : the vehicles are only available at a few locations, and they have to be returned to these location.
A new form of vehicle-sharing is now appearing with a new type of vehicle : the automated vehicle. These vehicles have automated driving capabilities on an existing road infrastructure where they just need a right of way, such as a dedicated bus-lane. Of course, with the existing technologies, the speed of these vehicles is limited at around 30 km/h but this is quite sufficient in many urban environments and the technology, as well as the infrastructures (with dedicated high speed sections) will certainly evolve. Some of these vehicles can also allow for traditional manual driving in order to run among normal traffic. In these cases, the vehicles are called dual-mode and their automated capabilities allow them to be put in platoons, for example in order to collect them.
Eventually, this concept of dual mode vehicle which runs automatically in certain urban environment, will be applied to private vehicle which will then be allowed (with possibly some restrictions), to have access to these restricted areas. This is not a backward step in returning to the existing situation since these private vehicles will certainly run with clean fuels in these situations, be controlled in speed and in parking, would pay for the access right and could park automatically (underground or remote locations) when not in use.
Several companies and research organizations have been involved in the last ten years in the development of these new vehicles which we will call Cybercars. The first systems based on these vehicles have been put in operation in the Netherlands at the end of 1997 and have been running successfully 24 hours a day. Several other systems are being implemented right now in Europe which seems to be leading the world into this technology, although similar techniques are also experimented with in Japan and in the USA.