The December 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Driverless Dutch Bus Takes Passengers on Public Test

A robot shuttle bus carrying six passengers and no driver conducted its first trial run

2 min read
Driverless Dutch Bus Takes Passengers on Public Test
Credit: WEpod

Six passengers took an unusual ride last week. The shuttle bus they were on had no one behind the wheel. That short trial run along a lake in the Dutch town of Wageningen marked the first time such a self-driving vehicle had appeared on public roads in the Netherlands.

The WePod autonomous vehicle is an electric, driverless shuttle bus that could hit top speeds of 40 kilometers per hour when fully operational. But it maintained a speed of just 8 km/h during the first short demonstration run along a 200-meter stretch of road, according to The Guardian. The WePods could eventually bump their speeds up to the 25 kilometer-per-hour range during their first actual testing phase as they mix with other normal road traffic.

“With this project we are taking new steps towards making self-driving transport a reality in practice,” said Schultz van Haegen, Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment for the Netherlands, in a Jan. 28 statement. “It is only through practical testing that we can acquire new knowledge, not just technical knowledge, but also knowledge regarding safety, liability and privacy.”

imgPassengers inside a driverless WEpod shuttle bus.Credit: WEpod

Existing self-driving buses such as the Rotterdam Rivium shuttle bus in the Netherlands, and the Heathrow shuttles in London, U.K., operate only within dedicated lanes separate from other traffic. By comparison, the WePod shuttle buses, developed by Delft Technical University in the Netherlands, are meant to operate autonomously among other vehicles.

The WePod vehicles have onboard computers to control all the braking and steering commands. They also come equipped with cameras, radar sensors, and laser sensors to detect their surroundings. But a human operator monitors the autonomous vehicle’s progress remotely from a control room and can also intervene if necessary.

WePod’s first test phase is scheduled to take place on the campus of Wageningen University. If all goes well, Dutch planners hope to expand the route to so that it extends from the school to the town’s Ede-Wageningen railway station.

Such a project represents just one of many self-driving vehicle efforts taking off around the world. For example, a Swiss company has proposed an underground tunnel with dedicated lanes for autonomous delivery trucks to efficiently move goods from city to city.

The Conversation (0)

We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

Keep Reading ↓Show less