The first autonomous vehicle to drive on a public road in Belgium was inaugurated on Tuesday morning at a ceremony in Han-sur-Lesse attended by Prime Minister Charles Michel and Federal Mobility Minister François Bellot. The driverless shuttle, which has a capacity of 15 persons, will transport visitors of the Han-sur-Lesse domain for a months-long test period.
“In concrete terms, we are today beginning a first phase over a distance of 500 metres, which will go from the parking lot for buses and coaches to the ticket office of the Domain of the Caves of Han,” Bellot explained. “In the near future, the vehicle can then go up to the entrance to the caves, over a distance of more than a kilometre and a half.”
An initial test was done last year by Vias, Belgium’s road safety institute, on a private property in Bernister. However, this is the first time an autonomous vehicle has been authorized to drive on a public roadway.
“This route is a real research project that involved a considerable number of actors,” Bellot said, referring to the legal and administrative obstacles that had to be overcome. These include modifications to the traffic code to allow driverless vehicles on public roads.
The shuttle is programmed to follow a predetermined itinerary. It is equipped with sensors allowing it to interact with its environment and stop when there is an obstacle.
“Our objective will now be to study the reactions of passengers and road users, and possibly improve the technology so that it can be integrated harmoniously into our daily lives,” said Karin Genoe, managing director of the Vias Institute.