Newcastle's first autonomous vehicle - a free public shuttle bus that will begin operating along the city's harbour and beaches by mid-year - will be run by Keolis Downer, City of Newcastle has announced.
The private operator of the city's buses, ferries and trams was listed to run an autonomous vehicle trial in Newcastle in a financial report of its parent company on Thursday.
Keolis Downer and City of Newcastle confirmed on Sunday the company had won the tender to operate the 12-person shuttle bus for at least one year.
The vehicle will undergo rigorous safety testing in coming months before a launch date is set.
"Our vision is to create a smart, liveable and sustainable global city that shows how such technology has the potential to one day change the way transport networks and cities are organised in order to improve services for both locals and visitors", Newcastle lord mayor Nuatali Nelmes said.
"This future is brought forward one step at a time through the participation of the city, industry and transport operators in collaborative trials."
Cr Nelmes said the shuttle would provide Novocastrians and visitors to the city with another integrated transport option.
"This will be the first time we've seen a vehicle connect with an integrated public transport network on public roads anywhere in Australia," she said.
"It will favourably position Newcastle as an innovative, forward-thinking city where emerging technologies are developed, trialled and evaluated and we look forward to working with our partners throughout this project."
The official route and operational details are yet to be determined, but a safety management plan will be developed to identify and manage risks associated with the driverless shuttle before and during its operation.
A trained human operator, to be known as a chaperone, is required by law to be on the vehicle at all times and will carry a remote device similar to a video game controller to take charge of the vehicle in the event of an emergency.
The trial, announced in November, is part of the council's Smart City strategy, which received $5 million from the federal government's Smart Cities and Suburbs program in 2017.
An initial plan to run an autonomous vehicle at the University of Newcastle's Callaghan campus was scrapped.
The city shuttle adds to the similar trials being held around the state by Transport for NSW, including in Armidale and Coffs Harbour.
It will help gauge demand for future driverless vehicle operations and assess their suitability in mixed traffic and transport scenarios.
The emergence of autonomous technology has led to driverless vehicles being tested by governments and communities all around the world.
The Keolis Group, which Keolis Downer is a part of, launched nine autonomous vehicle trials last year and has operated the vehicles in more than 30 locations since 2016.
"We are thrilled to work with the City of Newcastle to deliver a driverless vehicle for Newcastle," a Keolis Downer spokesperson said.
"The trial will enable us to share our knowledge and provide customers with a new 'last mile' transport option. This will build on our experience in the driverless vehicle sector from trials conducted in Victoria and South Australia.
"And internationally, Keolis has carried 90,000 passengers on driverless shuttles and travelled 33,000 kilometres to date."
The autonomous technology is considered by many as the future of both public and private transport.
Trains on Sydney's new rail line that will open next month, the Sydney Metro Northwest, have no drivers.
Passengers can stand at the front of the train where a driver cabin is usually located.