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US state commences testing on driverless shuttle buses

The Department of Transportation in the US state of Minnesota has announced that it has officially commenced trials of its new driverless bus shuttles. The US state becomes the latest in a whole host of North American cities to trial new autonomous technology which if tested successfully will be subsequently integrated into its public transportation sector.

Uber is currently testing the concept of driverless taxis in Pittsburgh, whilst Google's autonomous car firm WAYMO is initiating tests on self-driving minivans in Phoenix. The Minnesota DOT (Department of Transportation) has confirmed that its department will provide the necessary infrastructure and policy and regulatory nous to help integrate the system into the transportation industry in the state.

The driverless buses being used in the test project in Minnesota have been developed by French company Easy-Mile which has successfully deployed its buses in Helsinki, Finland and in other regions in Scandinavia. The vehicle can caters for 12 people and its decor has been described as utilitarian-meets-IKEA. It has no steering wheel or gas pedal. It runs on a pre-mapped route and generates an average speed of 15MPH.

Easy-Mile's Sales Director, Joseph Holmes, added that the buses have also been tested in California and in Texas. He confirmed that the tests in both states had been a success. He said. "We've had no accidents, and buses are primarily designed to work in more controlled environments, such as preplanned communities."

As mentioned above, the driverless vehicles developed by the French firm have been successfully deployed in Scandinavia in Finland and Norway, but this is the first time the technology has been tested in a cold-weather climate in the US.

It has been disclosed that the test program will last until February and will account for the amount of salt dispersed on Minnesota's roads during this timeframe. Smart lasers in the vehicle help detect potential roadblocks such as pedestrians or cyclists. The vehicle will be tested on a closed segment of Nicollet Mall from 3rd Street to 4th Street on Jan. 26-28, as well as Feb. 2-3, and more information is available on Minnesota's Department of Transportation website.

Douma, a transportation scholar at the U's Center for Transportation Studies, said the demonstration will help people overcome their fear of driverless vehicles. "It's a matter of people getting out and getting used to it. The Nicollet Mall demonstration will introduce the technology, let people get on it and see if it works. "People used to be afraid to use elevators, too. This is a progressive step that must be embraced and welcomed. It's the future of mobility."