Driverless Bus Begins Trials On Public Roads In Netherlands

Jan 28, 2016 01:30 PM EST | John Nassivera

A self-driving electric shuttle took to public roads in the Netherlands Thursday to begin the first of its trials.

The shuttle, dubbed the "WePod," took six passengers on a short journey on a 200m stretch of road along the side of the lake in the central Dutch agricultural town of Wageningen, Reuters reported.

Jan Willem van der Wiel, the technical director of the project, said that while the pod normally only travels at 5 mph (8kmph), he added that the WePod is the first autonomous vehicle to be used on public roads. "This is a milestone," he said.

The test phase will have the shuttle bus take people between Wageningen and Ede, but it will not travel at night or in rush hour traffic, bad weather and other challenging conditions, according to The Telegraph. The WePod team will monitor the vehicle and the passengers' safety from a control room.

Additional technical equipment, such as cameras, radar, laser and GPS for tracking the surrounding environment, is planned for the vehicle. Joris Ijsselmuiden, a researcher at Wageningen University which is testing the pods, said that the cameras will map landmarks in order to provide an alternative navigation tool when trees and other road obstacles affect GPS accuracy.

Passengers can use an app to reserve seats on the electric pod and specify their starting points and destinations, The Telegraph noted.

The WePod was initially designed by French automaker and robotics specialists EasyMile and was developed for Citymobil2, an EU-funded project aimed at providing automated road transport system across urban Europe. Citymobil2 has allowed the shuttles to transport 19,000 passengers in Vantaa, Finland and carry passengers on the EPFL university campus, in Lausanne, Switzerland.

The WePod will be able to travel at 15 mph once it is fully operational, according to The Guardian. The team behind the driverless bus is expected to add more routes and regions in the Netherlands starting in May 2016.

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