Newcastle's first driverless vehicle arrives: trial runs along Wharf Road

NEW: Lord Mayor of Newcastle Nuatali Nelmes, with Keolis Downer's Sue Wiblin and general manager Mark Dunlop inside the new vehicle. Picture: Marina Neil
NEW: Lord Mayor of Newcastle Nuatali Nelmes, with Keolis Downer's Sue Wiblin and general manager Mark Dunlop inside the new vehicle. Picture: Marina Neil

THE city's first driverless vehicle was unveiled on last week.

The pilot program of the new automated shuttles will begin with trial runs and passengers are expected to join the test rides by Christmas.

The 11-seater mini vehicle will drive on a set route from Watt Street along Wharf Road to Nobbys and back. A larger circuit will also take in other beaches around the city during the 12-month trial to be run by Keolis Downer, which won the tender earlier this year.

"Over the next month, we will complete a rigorous safety testing program, on road and off road, to prepare the vehicle for customer services," Keolis Downer New Mobilities Manager Sue Wiblin said.

"In-built computers and sensing systems capable of detecting obstacles, anticipating movement and evaluating risk of collision, are what sets this vehicle apart from the risks associated with human-controlled cars."

"Shuttles are phenomenally safe, they have radars, censors and GPS," she said. "You are more likely to have someone walk into a shuttle, than a shuttle hit someone."

While the shuttles do not need a driver, NSW legislation requires the vehicle to have an on-board operator.

This human operator, or chaperone as they are being called, can step in and drive the vehicle manually using an X-box remote control which is hooked into the vehicle's computer.

Chaperones were sent to France for a training course in how to run the vehicle, as well as maintenance and troubleshooting.

The trial, announced in November, is part of the council's Smart City strategy, which received $5 million from the federal government's Smart Cities and Suburbs program in 2017.

"This is a major milestone for the smart city journey, and I look forward to working to make the future of automated transport in Newcastle a reality as we transform the city into a living lab," Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.

"The city's vision for a smart, integrated transport network begins in earnest with the arrival of this new driverless vehicle, which we propose connecting with Newcastle's integrated public transport network."

The trial will help gauge demand for driverless vehicles in Newcastle.

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