On 20 January Las Vegas residents will become the first in the US to catch a lift from a fully autonomous bus driving on public roads.
The electric 12-seat vehicle will spend a two-week trial ferrying passengers along east Fremont Street between Las Vegas Boulevard and Eighth Street. This route is a few minutes from the Vegas main strip and McCarren International Airport.
Built by Paris-based Navya, the vehicles can drive themselves at up to 27 miles per hour, but for the test period will be limited to just 12mph. The buses will be available between 10am and 6pm, and will drive themselves on the public roads, where they will have to deal with human-driven traffic without any help from a driver.
Riding the bus, known as Arma, will be free during the test period and it is hoped the $10,000 (£8,100) per month running cost will be largely subsidised by adverts both on the exterior and on displays inside. Local businesses have already expressed an interest in advertising in and on the bus, the Las Vegas Sun reports, adding that some are considering paying for extras stops to be built near their offices.
After the two-week trial it is hoped a full service could begin by late summer or during the autumn.
'Living in the day of The Jetsons'
Las Vegas Councilman Ricki Barlow said a trip in Arma felt like something from science fiction. "I remember as a young boy watch The Jetsons with the vehicles that operated by themselves. Today, ladies and gentlemen, when you talk about innovation, we are living in the day of The Jetsons."
The bus uses radar to ascertain where other vehicles and pedestrians are, and uses GPS to navigate along the public roads. Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman, who rode on the bus ahead of its public launch, said: "What a wonderful day for all of us to witness this. Being the control freak that I am, I was very nervous to get on this vehicle, but it is clean, has beautiful air and moves sort of swiftly but so beautifully down Fremont East."
Recognising the need to make sure the bus runs perfectly, Las Vegas head of community development Jorge Cervantes said: "It's a matter of fine-tuning the technology to make sure it's safe. The last thing we want is for something to happen."