The first full-sized autonomous bus in the United Kingdom has now taken to the roads of Scotland for the first time.
The bus started two weeks of live road tests on April 25. During testing, no passengers are allowed on the bus.
The new bus was developed by the British autonomous technology firm Fusion Processing; Stagecoach, the United Kingdom’s largest bus operator; Alexander Dennis, the United Kingdom’s largest bus manufacturer; and highway management authority Transport Scotland. The on-road tests in Scotland follow successful depot-based trials, track testing and virtual simulations where researchers put the buses through their paces to fine-tune the autonomous drive systems.
The new bus is part of Project CAVForth, which seeks to build, test and deliver buses capable of Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Level 4 autonomy—that is, the ability to act without any human intervention in the vast majority of situations.
“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,” Sam Greer, regional director for Stagecoach in Scotland, said in a statement. “This is a hugely exciting project for Scotland and we are pleased to be starting live testing on roads this week. 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.”
The buses are fitted with Fusion Processing’s sensor and control technology, CAVstar, which enables them to run on pre-selected roads without a safety driver having to intervene or take control.
“We are delighted to be leading the world’s most complex and ambitious autonomous vehicle program,” Jim Hutchinson, Fusion Processing CEO, said in a statement. “CAVForth will provide a useful service to local people as well as being a great demonstration of Fusion’s automated vehicle technology.”
Passenger service with these buses is planned to go live in late summer this year. This pilot project will run five single-deck level 4 autonomous buses on a route over the Forth Road Bridge connecting Fife and Edinburgh in Scotland. The buses will provide a service capable of carrying up to 36 passengers over the 28-mile round trip, with capacity for over 10,000 passengers a week.
When this pilot begins, more than 20 experienced bus drivers will monitor the autonomous systems alongside a bus “captain” who will move around the bus talking to passengers about the service and answering any questions they may have. The aim is to demonstrate what a future service might feel like when a staff member is able to leave the cab of the bus while the computer does the driving.
“The start of on-route testing is a milestone for our autonomous bus project,” Chris Gall, Alexander Dennis Limited Group engineering director, said in a statement. “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.”