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New shuttle to drive South Australia around town on its own

The self-driving electric shuttle will first provide first- and last-mile solutions to the public before adding more routes to its services.

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South Australia will welcome a self-driving electric shuttle from tomorrow onwards.

Flinders University

There's a new first- and last-mile solution in South Australia and it's not those brightly coloured bikes that have been subjected to abuse and irked regulators around the world.

A self-driving public electric shuttle called the Flinders Express will begin operations at the Tonsley Innovation District in South Australia from Wednesday, Flinders University said in a statement today. Rides can be booked online although operations run only from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays due to battery limitations.

The scheme is part of a 5-year trial of driverless vehicle technology expected to take public roads in South Australia "for the first time," the university added. It can ferry up to 15 passengers and travel as fast as 40 kph (24.85 mph), although its speed will be limited to 30 kph during the trial.

A chaperone will be on board every ride to help users understand the technology and ensure safety, according to the announcement.

South Australia isn't the first to welcome a driverless shuttle on its roads, although one in Las Vegas was involved in an accident with a human-driven truck within the first hour of operation -- the truck backed into the shuttle, which had stopped moving. Finland also began testing two autonomous buses last August while other cities are looking into how driverless vehicles can make life easier.

The shuttle is being launched in order to expose the public to new types of transport service, said Professor Rocco Zito, head of civil engineering at Flinders University.

"Demonstrations and trials of these driverless vehicles that involve the community are a really good way of building acceptance of this type of new technology," he explained, adding that the team also wants to learn from feedback to improve public confidence in driverless vehicles.

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