Autonomous bus at depot

Self-driving bus begins technical trials in Manchester

Image credit: Stagecoach

A full-sized bus is now being trialled operating autonomously in a Manchester bus depot, with plans for similar vehicles to run in passenger service in Scotland next year.

The project – a first for the UK – is part of a programme being delivered by transport operator Stagecoach in partnership with bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) and technology company Fusion Processing.

The 11.5m single-deck vehicle is now able to operate autonomously within Sharston depot, using technology that could also provide future road safety benefits for vehicles operating in manual mode.

The ADL-manufactured bus has been fitted with the CAVstar system provided by Fusion Processing, and is being trialled by Stagecoach. The trial includes the bus being used in autonomous mode within the depot environment, to carry out movements such as parking and moving into the bus wash.

The first public demonstration of the bus took place today (Monday 18 March), attended by the chief executives of each partner organisation.

The CAVstar control and sensing system has been used successfully in the UK’s largest public trial of autonomous vehicles to date, in Greenwich last year, and a number of other projects.

The system uses multiple sensor types including radar, lidar, optical cameras and ultrasound, along with satellite navigation to detect and avoid objects, in all weathers, day and night, and plan an optimum path for the vehicle.

The software being used in the pilot vehicle also forms the basis for a significant autonomous vehicle trial due to get under way in 2020 when a fleet of five autonomous buses similar to this one will operate – carrying passengers - between Fife and Edinburgh, across the Forth Road Bridge Corridor.

Funding of £4.35m from the UK Government’s Innovate UK fund was awarded last year to the CAVForth project team, which includes Stagecoach along with partners Transport Scotland, Alexander Dennis, Fusion Processing, ESP Group, Edinburgh Napier University and University of West of England.

The vehicles in both trials will be used autonomously to Level 4 standard, which means that a safety driver must remain on board.

The technology can also be used to help improve the safety of road users in manually driven vehicles. For example, the sensor system on the vehicle can be used to provide assistance to the driver by warning of cyclists or pedestrians that may be in the blind spot or arrive unexpectedly close to the vehicle.

Jim Hutchinson, CEO of Fusion Processing Ltd said: “Today offers a glimpse of how future bus depots can be automated for improved safety and efficiency. Our advanced driver-assistance systems such as CycleEye already offer improved operational safety for buses and HGVs today, and we anticipate further new ADAS products as spin offs from the AV bus project.”

Although the Manchester trial is the first in the UK, it begins just weeks after Volvo and Nanyang Technological University started testing autonomous buses in Singapore.

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