Skolkovo is to become a testing centre for driverless buses with the setting up of a research and development centre by innovative bus-maker Volgabus.

The driverless bus developed jointly by Bakulin Motors Group and Skolkovo resident KB Avrora. Photo:

The R&D centre, which is due to open next year, will work on robotic systems for creating and controlling driverless vehicles, as well as the cyber security of driverless transport and navigational maps and systems, and will include a testing ground. An agreement on its creation is due to be signed on Monday at the Skolkovo innovation centre.

Initially the R&D centre is expected to employ 30 people, with that number due to rise to nearly 100 by 2018, in premises covering 400 square metres.

Alexei Bakulin, director of Bakulin Motors Group, which owns the Volgabus brand name, said that working with Skolkovo would provide his company with access to innovative technology in the fields of IT, autonomous energy, robotics and other areas of science and tech in which Skolkovo resident companies work.

“Cooperation with promising startups with provide a technology boost to BMG’s development and will strengthen its leading position as an innovative manufacturer of transport,” he said, adding that Skolkovo, whose roads are not open to the public as the site is still under construction, is also the perfect place to test driverless transport.

Volgabus, which was founded in 1993 and makes buses primarily used in Russia’s Ryazanskaya, Leningradskaya, Vladimirskaya and Volgogradskaya regions, is already working on a project to develop a driverless electric bus together with KB Avrora, a resident of Skolkovo’s IT cluster that works on driverless technology and autonomous navigation systems. The bus is currently undergoing testing at Skolkovo and the project was due to be demonstrated to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev during a visit to Skolkovo on Monday afternoon, when the R&D centre agreement was due to be signed.

A video of the driverless bus currently being tested at Skolkovo. Video: Skolkovo Foundation.

"Nearly all the companies working on driverless transport [in Russia] are already present at Skolkovo, either as resident startups or as key partners."

“The territory of Skolkovo has become an excellent testing ground for our technology, and should soon enable us to launch a commercial product,” said Vitaly Savelev, KB Avrora’s commercial director. 

KB Avrora, which was founded in 2010 by a team of engineers and programmers from Ryazan Radioengineering University, plans on developing a fully-fledged autonomous transport system at Skolkovo that will be completely integrated with the innovation city’s infrastructure.

“The project we’re working on isn’t just aimed at launching individual driverless buses, but at creating an automised transport system with charging stations, a traffic control centre, smart bus-stops and other elements that will interact with one another and optimize the transport flows,” said Savelev.

Albert Yefimov, head of Skolkovo’s Robocentre, said Bakunin Motors Group’s plans for growth testify to the strategic importance of driverless passenger transport to the company.

“In my view, it’s a step in the right direction, since nearly all the companies working on driverless transport [in Russia] are already present at Skolkovo, either as resident startups or as key partners. There aren’t that many of these companies in Russia, but we have managed to assemble them here,” he said.

Yefimov said the presence of Skoltech, a graduate research university, on the premises of the Skolkovo innovation centre would also be an advantage for Volgabus.

“A genuine R&D centre in this groundbreaking field is only possible with the involvement of strong scientists,” he said.

Yefimov said Skolkovo would soon become an open testing zone for cutting-edge developments in city transport. 

“Small smart buses will be in demand in our small but very creative city,” he said. 

“I see a wonderful synergy in this: on the one hand, Skolkovo is a territory covering 400 hectares on which vehicles with internal combustion engines will not be allowed. On the other hand, it is driverless technology that makes the business model of electric transport truly efficient for the customer, and this is the path we should take.”

The Russian government has allocated funding for both air and land pilotless transport technology as part of the National Technological Initiative, a public-private partnership aimed at creating new technology markets through 2035 that President Vladimir Putin has named as a priority policy.