UK’s first full-sized autonomous bus takes the high road in Scotland

Live road testing is taking place for the next two weeks in what is claimed to be Europe’s most complex and ambitious public autonomous bus pilot, with passenger service due to go live in late summer

Stagecoach, in partnership with Fusion Processing, Alexander Dennis (ADL) and Transport Scotland, has announced that it will carry out live on-road testing on what is said to be the UK’s first full-sized autonomous bus, which is set to take to the roads of Scotland for the first time.

Project CAVForth, jointly funded by the UK government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), will see five single-deck autonomous buses operating at SAE Level 4 over the Forth Road Bridge between Ferrytoll Park and Ride in Fife and the Edinburgh Park Train and Tram interchange.

The buses are fitted with Fusion Processing’s sensor and control technology, CAVstar, which is designed to enable the vehicles to run on pre-selected roads without the safety driver having to intervene or take control. The buses are intended to provide a service capable of carrying up to 36 passengers over the 14 miles across the bridge, with capacity for more than 10,000 passengers a week.

The on-road testing in Scotland follows a series of depot-based trials, track testing and virtual simulation where the buses have been put through their paces to fine-tune the autonomous drive systems.

To help support the delivery of Project CAVForth, Transport Scotland recently opened a section of actively managed hard shoulder for all buses on the eastbound part of the M8 motorway. This will help to reduce journey times and improve journey time reliability for all buses of 24 seats or more on approach to Edinburgh.

About 500 members of the public have also helped with the implementation of the autonomous bus service, providing feedback on what would make them feel comfortable and confident in travelling. Built on the feedback received, the partners have developed a vision for the new autonomous vehicles, which includes making sure future autonomous buses still have a member of staff on board. During testing, no passengers are allowed on the bus.

As the project goes forward, more than 20 specially trained “autonomous bus professionals” will soon be recruited by Stagecoach from across its east Scotland business. When the service goes live, these experienced bus drivers will monitor the autonomous system alongside a bus “captain” who will move around the saloon, talking to passengers about the service and answering any questions they may have, demonstrating what a future service might feel like when the staff member is able to leave the cab while the computer does the driving.

“Stagecoach is continuing to look for ways to improve the service it offers to customers, including through major investment in new technology, such as the CAVForth pilot,” said Sam Greer, regional director for Stagecoach in Scotland. “This is a hugely exciting project for Scotland and we are pleased to be starting live testing on roads today. This is a major step forward in our journey to fully launch the UK’s first full-sized autonomous bus service and will provide easy access to a brand-new bus route in the heart of east Scotland.”

Chris Gall, ADL Group engineering director, added: “The start of on-route testing is a milestone for our autonomous bus project. In partnership with Stagecoach, Fusion Processing and Transport Scotland, Project CAVForth helps us to explore new technologies that will make buses even safer and even more efficient. As we move towards passenger services later in the year, the project will be a landmark demonstration of future technologies in transport.”

Fusion Processing CEO Jim Hutchinson said: “We are delighted to be leading the world’s most complex and ambitious autonomous vehicle programme. CAVForth will provide a useful service to local people as well as being a great demonstration of Fusion’s automated vehicle technology. The buses are fitted with CAVstar, our automated driving system which combines our own hardware and software to create safe, full-size buses operating at SAE Level 4. On-road testing is an exciting milestone in the development of autonomous commercial vehicles and we look forward to welcoming passengers on board in a few months’ time.”

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