Line of parked purple and orange buses

Scotland drives innovation with UK’s first full-sized autonomous bus

Image credit: Unsplash

On-road testing for "the world's most complex and ambitious autonomous vehicle programme" has begun in Scotland.

The UK's first fully sized autonomous vehicle of its kind has taken to the Scottish roads. 

Stagecoach will be carrying out on-road testing of five full-sized driverless buses from Monday, as the company prepares to launch a passenger service later this summer.

“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 Scotland,” said Sam Greer, regional director of the company in Scotland.

The CAVForth pilot will take place over the Forth Road Bridge between Ferrytoll Park and Ride in Fife and the Edinburgh Park train and tram interchange.

Once the service is live, the buses are expected to provide a service capable of carrying up to 36 passengers 14 miles across the bridge, with a capacity of 10,000 passengers a week. Each vehicle will carry an experienced safety driver and a bus captain, tasked with talking to customers about the service and answering their questions.

The project has been developed as a partnership between Stagecoach, Fusion Processing, Alexander Dennis and Transport Scotland, with financial backing from the UK Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

Jim Hutchinson, chief executive of Fusion Processing, said he was “delighted to be leading the world’s most complex and ambitious autonomous vehicle programme.”

The autonomous bus market has been increasingly attracting attention over the past few years, and it is expected to grow by 1990 units during 2021-2025, at an annual growth rate of 27 per cent. The on-road testing in Scotland follows successful depot-based trials, track testing and virtual simulation which Stagecoach said put the autonomous buses through their paces to fine-tune the drive systems.

There are six levels of driving, as defined by the Society of Automotive Engineers. The buses being tested will operate at level four, meaning no driver attention is required for safety but self-driving is only supported in limited areas or circumstances. Outside these, the driver must intervene.

“As we move towards passenger services later in the year, the project will be a landmark demonstration of future technologies in transport,” said Chris Gall, group engineering director of Alexander Dennis.

Stagecoach expects the project to demonstrate what a future service might feel like when the staff member is able to leave the cab while the computer does the driving.

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