x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 22 November 2017

Robot bus hits the road for the first time in Germany

12-seater driverless vehicle plies route through pretty southern area of Bavaria

Richard Lutz, CEO of German railway company Deutsche Bahn, waves in front of the first German autonomous public transport bus during a presentation in Bad Birnbach, southern Germany, on October 25, 2017. 
German state-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn unveiled its first-ever driverless bus Wednesday, saying the shuttle will bring passengers through a picturesque spa town to the train station. The first autonomous minibus can transport six passengers. It will travel on a partial public transport route of 700 meters in the small town of Bad Birnbach Lower Bavaria. / AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE
Richard Lutz, CEO of German railway company Deutsche Bahn, waves in front of the first German autonomous public transport bus during a presentation in Bad Birnbach, southern Germany, on October 25, 2017. German state-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn unveiled its first-ever driverless bus Wednesday, saying the shuttle will bring passengers through a picturesque spa town to the train station. The first autonomous minibus can transport six passengers. It will travel on a partial public transport route of 700 meters in the small town of Bad Birnbach Lower Bavaria. / AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE

The German state-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn has unveiled its first-ever driverless bus, saying the shuttle will bring passengers through a picturesque spa town to the train station.

The test route for the self-driving machine is in Bad Birnbach, set in the rolling hills of the south-eastern state Bavaria not far from the Czech and Austrian borders.

The first German autonomous public transport bus drives during a presentation in Bad Birnbach, southern Germany, on October 25, 2017. 
German state-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn unveiled its first-ever driverless bus Wednesday, saying the shuttle will bring passengers through a picturesque spa town to the train station. The first autonomous minibus can transport six passengers. It will travel on a partial public transport route of 700 meters in the small town of Bad Birnbach Lower Bavaria. / AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE
The autonomous bus in Bad Birnbach, southern Germany. Christof Stache/AFP

Made by the French start-up EasyMile, the 12-person bus will offer free rides on an eight-minute route linking the baths, the town centre and the station, said Deutsche Bahn (DB).

"We've just driven autonomously into a new era of transport," said the DB boss Richard Lutz, who rode along on the first trip.

The rail operator has launched a subsidiary dubbed Ioki to test future modes of transport, focusing especially on electric-powered mobility.

Inside view of the first German autonomous public transport bus during a presentation in Bad Birnbach, southern Germany, on October 25, 2017. 
German state-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn unveiled its first-ever driverless bus Wednesday, saying the shuttle will bring passengers through a picturesque spa town to the train station. The first autonomous minibus can transport six passengers. It will travel on a partial public transport route of 700 meters in the small town of Bad Birnbach Lower Bavaria. / AFP PHOTO / Christof STACHE
Inside view of the bus. Christof Stache/ AFP

From 2018, the new buses will operate on test routes in several German towns, including the country's second-largest city Hamburg.

DB hopes that in the future they will operate like a private car service, picking up passengers from home on demand and bringing them to the station - picking up others with the same destination along the way.

Across the Americas, Asia and Europe, a number of cities - including Paris, Lyon, Las Vegas and Dubai - are already experimenting on a small scale with autonomous vehicles complementing public transport systems.