AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - 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.
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.
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."
Several trials of so-called autonomous vehicles are under way in the automotive and technology industries, from Tesla's Model S sedan, which can change lanes with minimal driver input, to plans by Google and Daimler to introduce driverless vehicles.
"There are initiatives all over the world, but this is the first time one will operate without a driver, on a public road," said Iris van Cattenburch of Connekt, a group of companies developing sustainable public transport.
The shuttle pilot project will be expanded in coming months and will eventually be used as public transport along a 6 kilometer route in the town, she said.
In April, the Netherlands will hold the first trial with driverless semi-trucks at Rotterdam port, which autonomous road trains sending cargo from Europe's biggest port, throughout the continent by 2019.
The trial of the WePod, developed with the Delft Technical University for roughly 3 million euros ($3.3 million), will be streamed live at http://wepods.com/, at 1415 local time (1315 GMT).
When fully operational, the WePods will travel at 25 km per hour.
($1 = 0.9179 euros)
(Reporting By Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Hugh Lawson)