The first self-driving electric shuttle for use on public roads has been delivered to the Netherlands. The “WEpod” will take passengers between the two towns of Wageningen and Ede in the province of Gelderland from November.
Autonomous public transportation does exist in other parts of the world, such as the ParkShuttle bus in Rotterdam, the Heathrow Pod in London and the LUTZ Pathfinder in Milton Keynes, which run on special single trajectory lanes, or in pedestrianised areas. The WEpods in Gelderland will drive on regular roads amongst public traffic.
During its test phase it will not travel in challenging conditions, such as in rush hour traffic, at night or in bad weather. A control room will monitor the vehicle and safety of its passengers. The six-person vehicle has a maximum speed of 25 kilometres per hour.
The WEpod team intend to equip the vehicle with additional technical equipment such as cameras, radar, laser and GPS to track the environment the vehicle will travel in.
According to Joris Ijsselmuiden, a researcher at Wageningen University which is testing the pods, the vehicles will also be equipped with multiple cameras. The cameras are used to map landmarks, which is used as an alternative navigation tool when GPS accuracy is masked by road obstacles like trees.
The WEpod can be booked using an app which will allow passengers to reserve a seat and specify their starting points and their destinations. Vehicles are expected to select their itineraries independently.
The electric pod was originally designed by French vehicle manufacturer and robotic specialists EasyMile. It was developed for Citymobil2, an EU-funded project looking at automated road transport systems across urban Europe.
Through Citymobil2, the electric driverless shuttles have already transported 19,000 passengers in Vantaa, Finland and carried passengers on the EPFL university campus, in Lausanne, Switzerland.
The vehicles will initially ride on a fixed route, but it is expected to expand to more routes and other regions in the Netherlands from May 2016 onwards.