The Netherlands is known for its willingness to experiment with alternative transportation infrastructure, whether it’s roads free of traffic signs or cycling highways. In May, the country will add another innovation to the list: driverless mass transit. A pair of small automated buses called WEpods will drive visitors to the Dutch province of Gelderland on a set route to the local Wageningen University and Research Centre, Curbed reports. These will be the first autonomous buses in the Netherlands to share public roads with other vehicles.
Gelderland isn’t the first region to float the idea of driverless buses, although few cities have let autonomous vehicles loose on roads where they can mix with other traffic. Cities in China and Greece started testing driverless buses last fall, and a Swiss pilot is launching this spring.
WEpodson trial at a January 2016 event
The buses—which have a top speed of about 15 mph (slightly lower than the typical residential speed limit in many Dutch urban areas)—navigate their way through traffic with the help of GPS, 3D maps of the route, lasers, and sensors. Passengers can also press three buttons within the vehicle to stop in case of emergencies. Eventually, the university wants to use the six-passenger WEpods to allow visitors to reserve their own rides from the railway station by using an app.
Whether larger municipal transit systems will adopt automated bus and train system remains to be seen. Even if the technology performs well in small pilots like these WEpods, city transit agencies are large bureaucracies that are often majorly cash-strapped and resistant to change, especially when it means cutting jobs. But as more towns successfully experiment with small-scale autonomous public transit, it may become a closer possibility for bigger urban bus systems.
All images courtesy Rogier Leuvenink via Picasa