AMSTERDAM — An electric, driverless shuttle bus will take to the Dutch public roads on Thursday, rolling six passengers along a 200 meter (yard) stretch of road in the first trial of its kind worldwide, Reuters reported.
The WePod, one of a fleet to be rolled out in coming years, will ride back and forth in the central Dutch agricultural town of Wageningen, the report said.
At 8 kilometers (5 miles) per hour, it's not going to set a speed record, "but an unmanned vehicle has never been used on public roads," the project's technical director, Jan Willem van der Wiel, said. "This is a milestone," according to Reuters.
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What are WEpods?
WEpods are driverless vehicles that do not have a steering wheel or pedals. They are fully automated and are electrically powered. Main features:
- 6-person cabin, automated door and platform lift for wheelchairs
- Height 275 cm, width 199 cm, length 393 cm, wall-to-wall turning circle 9 m
- Maximum speed 25mph (in the test phase the WEpod drives at 5 mph)
- Electrically powered with a range of approximately 62 miles
Good navigation is vital for self-driving vehicles if they are to follow a route safely and reliably. To this end, a special highly detailed map of the route is made. In addition to the layout of the road, this map also displays all visible objects (trees, lampposts, etc.). The vehicle’s exact travel line is projected on the map and the (maximum) speed for each section of the road is set down. Such a map is something completely new; its exact definition was developed in this project.
Cameras, radar sensors and laser sensors provide the WEpod with correct information on its surroundings so that it can anticipate necessary actions. Various on-board computers combine all the data and give commands, including to the braking and steering systems. In this way, the vehicle can respond to other roads users and sudden changes. An operator in the control room receives a signal at certain pre-defined points and if the vehicle stops. The operator then examines the situation with the vehicle and initiates the appropriate action. While inside the WEpod, passengers can also contact the control room at any given moment.