A driverless electric shuttle took its first load of passengers a few hundred meters down a route in a rural section of the Netherlands this week. Wepod shuttle is hoping to operate a fleet of the robotic vehicles in the area in the coming years.
The self-driving Wepod test is believed to be among the first in which driverless vehicles are driving on public roads in traffic for extended periods of time. Similar Ultra Pods have been used at Heathrow airport on closed routes for some time and are set to be tried on the streets of London later this year.
Wepod will continue to be tested out on the campus of Wageningen University for the time being. If the testing phase is deemed a success, the Province of Gelderland, which commissioned the project, could expand the route to include other stops in the region and the Ede-Wageningen intercity railway station.
Wepods are fully automated and have no steering wheel or pedals for manual operation. Each has a 6-person cabin with automatic door, wheelchair lift and a range of about 100 km (62 miles) per charge. The maximum speed is 40 km/h (25 mph), but during the test phase the Wepod is being restricted to just 25 km/h (16 mph).
The Wepod's navigation relies on a combination of detailed route maps, cameras, radar and laser sensors that communicate with on-board computers to respond to changes in its environment. An operator in a remote control room can also send commands to the pod and respond to passengers who have the ability to contact the control room while riding.
The project organizers hope to complete the test phase and begin expanding the route as soon as summer 2016.