A Dutch six-seat shuttle bus travelling at a speed of 8km/h has become the first autonomous vehicle in the world to have been allowed on public roads without a driver.
The first of what will become an entire fleet in the coming years, the WePod bus is currently being used along a 200-metre stretch of a road in the Dutch agricultural town of Wageningen.
The project’s proponents say that although there are currently many driverless car trials being conducted around the world, the WePod project is the first to see a driverless vehicle operated on a public road completely on its own.
"This is a milestone," said the project's technical director, Jan Willem van der Wiel.
Starting in June this year, the WePods, developed in cooperation with the Delft Technical University, will be ferrying passengers along a 6km route between the Ede-Wageningen railway and bus station and Wageningen University & Research Centre.
The shuttles, which cost about €3m to develop, are equipped with a GPS system, a 3D imager and a radar sensor to monitor their surroundings and react to the presence of other road users. When fully operational, the WePods will be able to reach a maximum speed of 25km/h. The operator will launch a dedicated app that will allow people to book a ride on the driverless shuttles.
The WePod project is not the only driverless venture currently under way in the Netherlands. In April, autonomous semi-trucks will be trialled at the port of Rotterdam and plans have already been made to start sending cargo on road trains without a driver to Europe’s biggest port from the continent by 2019.