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A driverless vehicle is set to operate on local Newcastle public roads in 2019 for the first time.

The City of Newcastle is seeking proposals from qualified operators to trial an autonomous public transport vehicle that can operate safely in traffic.

Newcastle’s trial will involve a small shuttle carrying about 12 people at a time through some of the city’s most scenic areas including our beaches and harbour front.

Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the trial will cement Newcastle as a leader for testing emerging technologies, and further confirm our smart city status.

“Our vision is to be a smart, liveable and sustainable global city by 2030,” the Lord Mayor said.

“This project provides yet another great opportunity to showcase Newcastle’s smart city initiatives to a national and international audience.

The trial will go through a safety testing phase before people can ride the shuttle free of charge.

The City’s tender documents outline a range of outcomes to be delivered during the trial, including:

  • Providing an autonomous vehicle for public use
  • Demonstrating that autonomous vehicles are suitable for use in urban environments
  • Testing the suitability of Newcastle’s smart city infrastructure to support autonomous vehicle operation
  • Assisting the development of local, state and federal regulations required to facilitate/accelerate the use of autonomous shuttles in urban public traffic.

The trial will run for at least a year as part of the Newcastle Smart City Strategy, which received $5m funding through the Federal Government’s Smart Cities and Suburbs program last year. Autonomous vehicles are being tested around the world as cities, governments and communities embrace the emergence of driverless technology.

“Automated shuttles and driverless car technologies are at the cutting-edge of transport. This trial will help build our understanding of how the vehicles can fit into existing traffic-dominated cities and connect with existing transport networks,” the Lord Mayor said.

“City of Newcastle is partnering with a consortium of technology businesses to provide an integrated network for transport, energy and digital infrastructure to transform the city into a living lab.”

Newcastle will join a select number of Australian cities trialling autonomous vehicles in public settings and full urban traffic. Legislation around autonomous vehicles in New South Wales currently requires a trained human operator to always be on board the vehicle.