There’s a new thrill on the streets of downtown Las Vegas, where high- and low-rollers alike are climbing aboard what officials call the first driverless electric shuttle operating on a public US street.
The oval-shaped shuttle began running on Tuesday as part of a 10-day pilot program, carrying up to 12 passengers for free along a short stretch of the Fremont Street East entertainment district.
The vehicle has a human attendant and computer monitor, but no steering wheel and no brake pedals. Passengers push a button at a marked stop to board it.
The shuttle uses GPS, electronic kerb sensors and other technology, and doesn’t require lane lines to make its way.
“The ride was smooth. It’s clean and quiet and seats comfortably,” said Mayor Carolyn Goodman, who was among the first public officials to take a ride on the vehicle developed by the French company Navya and dubbed Arma.
“I see a huge future for it once they get the technology synchronised,” the mayor said on Friday.
The vehicles have a range of about 145km for each electric charge and take about five to eight hours to recharge.
The top speed of the shuttle is 40km/h, but it’s running about 24km/h during the trial, Navya spokesman Martin Higgins said.
Side streets have been blocked to make a dedicated lane for it to pass traffic signals during the trial.
Higgins called it “100 per cent autonomous on a programmed route”.
“If a person or a dog were to run in front of it, it would stop,” he said.
Higgins said it’s the company’s first test of the shuttle on a public street in the US. A similar shuttle began testing in December at a simulated city environment at a University of Michigan research centre.
At a cost estimated at $US10,000 ($A13,317) a month, Las Vegas city community development chief Jorge Cervantes said the vehicle could be cost-efficient compared with a single bus and driver costing perhaps $US1 million a year.
The company said it has shuttles in use in Australia, France, Switzerland and other countries that have carried more than 100,000 passengers in more than a year of service.