12-seater driverless vehicle plies route through pretty southern area of Bavaria
Robot bus hits the road for the first time in Germany
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.
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.
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.