The Netherlands has started test-driving its first driverless minibuses hoping to introduce a full-time autonomous passenger service in a central Dutch province later this year.
Dutch Infrastructure Minister Melanie Schultz van Haegen took the first ride in a so-called ‘WEpod’ shuttle, designed to carry six people without a driver between the towns of Wageningen and Ede in the Gelderland province, reports AFP.
Currently, two WEPods will drive around the campus at Wageningen University where it is being tested, said Jac Niessen, the university’s science spokesman. At the end of a successful testing phase, the route will be expanded off campus.
The 12-minute route will take passengers along quiet back roads, but the minibus will have to contend with cars, cyclists and pedestrians. It will be programmed with a carefully mapped-out route in which all obstacles including trees and streetlights have been documented.
The eventual plan is to have them drive on a route, within traffic from nearby Ede to Wageningen by the middle of the year, Niessen told AFP.
The minibus will be equipped with cameras, radar and laser sensors with on-board computers relaying information to the brakes and steering. Its movements will be carefully watched from a central control room and it can be handed over to a controller if difficulties arise.
The French-designed WEPods were delivered to Wageningen in September and research began immediately.
Electric-powered, the minibuses are capable of reaching speeds of up to 40 kilometers per hour (25 miles per hour) but will initially travel no faster than 25 km per hour. It will have a range of around 100 kilometers (60 miles).
Excerpts and image from AFP