The world’s first autonomous tram went on its first ride in Potsdam, Germany, last week. The AI-powered train quietly rolled along a 3.7-mile section of test track through the city in real traffic, even slowing down for teenagers who forgot to look both ways before crossing the street. The only difference between your average inner-city tram and this one was that the conductor wasn’t touching the controls, but was just along for the ride, according to the Guardian.
The self-driving tram was developed by a team of 50 computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and physicists at the German engineering company Siemens. The tram’s trip down the tracks was part of an initial demonstration that showcased its AI-powered driving capabilities as part of InnoTrans 2018, an international transport exhibition.
Like most autonomous vehicles, the tram was fitted with radar, lidar, and camera sensors that help the AI-algorithms monitor its surroundings, react to signals, and reportedly respond to hazards faster than a human, even braking suddenly when a baby carriage (an empty one) was pushed in front of the tram as a test. When the emergency passed, the human conductor restarted the automated driving system and the tram started running again.
Despite the successful test, Siemens says the autonomous tram isn’t commercially viable—yet. Now that their test drive is done, they are working with computer scientists at the University of Karlsruhe to further develop the system and hopefully put the tram to work in a city near you.