The world’s first driverless bus service began carrying passengers in the French city of Lyon this weekend, attracting curious onlookers keen to photograph the vehicles.
Two electric minibuses with a capacity of 15 passengers each are now operating a 10-minute route with five stops in the city centre at an average speed of 6 miles (10km) per hour.
The vehicles have been tested without passengers in other French cities and in Switzerland, and a trial is under way in Dubai, using a bus developed with the help of a French company.
In Lyon, the 4-metre-long buses attracted curious onlookers who took ‘selfies’ beside the vehicles, which allow passengers to stand at the front and enjoy the journey from a “driver’s eye view”.
Christophe Sapet, chief executive of the Navya company which designed the buses, said: “They’re equipped with a range of detectors that allow them to know exactly where they are and to detect everything happening around them and to manage it intelligently to avoid collisions.”
Nevertheless, the buses are not capable of manoeuvring around other traffic and the routes are near a tramway where other vehicles are not allowed.
“Neither the current technology nor the legislation allow this type of vehicle to operate in the midst of cars or other traffic,” said Jean-Pierre Farandou of the Keolis transport group that operates the service.
Each minibus, costing about £170,000, is equipped with lasers, cameras and electronic systems that detect and analyse any movement around it.
Navya has taken about 30 orders for the vehicles and plans to develop larger buses able to carry 20 passengers.
The next step will be driverless cars, Mr Sapet said. “We can compete with Google and Uber cars without drivers… A driverless French car operating in city centres can become a reality as early as 2018.”
Two Métro lines in Paris operate without drivers, with the services controlled automatically, as does London’s Docklands Light Railway (DLR).