Image: Tartu University

The world’s first autonomous hydrogen vehicle, developed by the Estonian company Auve Tech in collaboration with Tartu University researchers, was unveiled in Tartu for the first time.

Estonian President Kersti Kaljulaid was the vehicle’s first passenger.

The hydrogen shuttle, which successfully completed its maiden test kilometers and was authorized for public use by the Estonian Road Administration in early June, was constructed as a result of the collaboration that began in February 2020. The vehicle is powered by low-temperature hydrogen cells created at the University of Tartu.

These cells generate energy directly from hydrogen within Auve Tech’s self-driving shuttle. It has a maximum seating capacity of six passengers and is primarily intended to improve last-mile mobility. As with Auve Tech’s other vehicles, the shuttle can operate autonomously in both public and semi-closed locations; its motions may be watched and rectified remotely if necessary.

At the vehicle’s unveiling in front of the University of Tartu’s main building, President of the Republic of Estonia Kersti Kaljulaid delivered a speech emphasizing that the development of a hydrogen shuttle is not only a significant milestone in the integration of two promising future technologies, but also a significant step toward a new reality in which people and innovation coexist.

“No one in the world has dared to spend time and resources on bringing together two parallel developments in transport – autonomous driving and remote control with hydrogen fuel. This shows that both technologies are still in an experimental stage. Undeniably, an entrepreneur who combines these two things takes a risk that is not twice but two squared as big. We actually don’t know what exactly our future will be and how soon it will be here. Like always, the problem is not in science or technology, but in the human being. We cannot imagine what happens when we have two types of drivers in traffic. It is possible that we, the Homo sapiens, must step away from the steering wheel to make room for self-driving vehicles,” said Kaljulaid. “Over 30 years, Estonians have done a lot of things that others have said they would, but do not dare to do. In this sense, Auve Tech’s hydrogen car fits perfectly into the worldview of Estonians,” said the President.

Väino Kaldoja, founder of Auve Tech and author of the Iseauto concept, says that in small Estonia it is possible to do great things in a short time. “This is what we experienced a few years ago, when our Iseauto was approved as road-legal, as well as now, as we are the first in the world to have combined autonomous driving and hydrogen energy in a vehicle,” he said. For Kaldoja, not only the end result is important, but also the students, researchers and experts involved in the process, who have been able to actively participate in creating something that is unique. More than 50 students were involved in the hydrogen shuttle project and all of them acquired much valuable knowledge about innovative hydrogen technology. “Today is definitely a significant day for the whole world but we still have so much energy, so that for us it is just a landmark on our long journey,” said the founder of Auve Tech. The hydrogen shuttle will be called Liisu, after Väino Kaldoja’s granddaughter Lisandra. “This is our nod to all Estonian girls and boys who are still at school, curious to take in more knowledge,” Kaldoja explained.

Professor of Physical Chemistry and Director of the Institute of Chemistry at the University of Tartu, Academician Enn Lust is highly grateful to Auve Tech for their decision to involve University of Tartu scientists in converting their autonomous vehicle to run on hydrogen. “It is important for us to show the initiative in developing fuel cells that convert hydrogen to energy. Hydrogen is the only sustainable solution in a situation where by 2030, at least 12% of the transport in Estonia must be powered by renewable fuels. We proved that in cooperation with the private sector, we are able to find a solution to it,” Lust said. He says that now it should be further developed on the national level. “Estonia is a small country, where a nationwide hydrogen infrastructure could be developed quickly, similarly to Germany, where the maximum distance between hydrogen filling stations is less than 150 km,” Lust said.

According to CEO of Auve Tech Johannes Mossov, a driverless hydrogen vehicle is an environmentally friendly alternative to personal cars. “The hydrogen used in the hydrogen cell makes it possible to produce the electricity needed to run the vehicle inside the vehicle, and the only by-products are vaporised water and heat. Its fast charging compared to electric cars allows more working hours for the vehicle, increasing the efficiency and introducing a way to integrate autonomous transportation to our everyday lives,” said Mossov.

Nedim Husomanovic

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