While some car makers and technology companies like Google are still somewhat scrambling to make self-driving private cars a reality on public roads, Netherlands might already be taking the next big step towards autonomous driving: public transport. Called the WEpods, these electric shuttles will be ferrying commuters between the towns of Wageningen and Ede in Gelderland starting November. And it won’t be settling for just some special, restricted road. These self-driving pods will be cruising along public roads and rubbing shoulders with regular vehicles and drivers.
Autonomous public transport isn’t exactly new in Europe. There are such shuttles in Heathrow in London as well as in Rotterdam in the Netherlands as well. The difference is that those older self-driving buses roll along in specially designated lanes, away from the harsher realities of real world traffic.
That makes the WEpod both more interesting and nerve-wracking. If a self-driving car already has you anxious, imagine a larger vehicle that can carry six passengers at once on regular roads. Of course, it will still be tested and during that test stage, the WEpod won’t exactly be trying to meet challenging road conditions head on. For example, it will avoid rush hour traffic or driving at night. It will also be cruising at a speed of 25 kph only.
Designed by French car maker and robotics company EasyMile, the WEpod and its predecessor, the EZ10, has already ferried about 19,000 passengers in Vantaa, Finland as well as serving passengers in Lausanne, Switzerland’s EPFL university campus. How passengers will ride on the WEpod is equally interesting. They can reserve seats through an app and indicate where they want to be picked up and where they’re headed. How the shuttle will get there and to all other destinations will all be up to the WEpod themselves.