The UK’s 'first full-sized autonomous bus' will take to the roads in Scotland this week as live testing begins for project CAVForth.
On-road testing of the autonomous bus will take place without passengers over the next two weeks in preparation for the launch of the CAVForth pilot service in late summer.
As with normal buses, it is running slightly behind schedule as trials were expected to start in 2020, following the first exhibition of the technology at Highways' Road Expo event in 2019.
The estimated cost of the scheme is around £6.1m. Project CAVForth is part-funded by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), delivered in partnership with Innovate UK.
Transport Scotland's partners on the scheme include Stagecoach, Fusion Processing and Alexander Dennis Ltd (ADL).
Chris Gall, ADL group engineering director, suggested the scheme could 'move towards passenger services later in the year' adding that 'the project will be a landmark demonstration of future technologies in transport'.
The Project CAVForth pilot 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 ground-breaking sensor and control technology, CAVstar, that enables them to run on pre-selected roads without the safety driver having to intervene or take control.
The buses will provide a service capable of carrying up to 36 passengers over the 14 miles across the bridge, with capacity for over 10,000 passengers a week.
The on-road testing follows successful depot-based trials, track testing and virtual simulation to help refine the technology.
Transport Scotland recently opened a section of 'actively managed hard shoulder' for all buses on the M8 eastbound, which it said would help to reduce journey times and improve journey time reliability for all buses of 24 seats or more on approach to Edinburgh.
Video from 2019 launch of the technology at Road Expo.
A survey of around 500 members of the public provided feedback on what would make them feel comfortable and confident in travelling on an autonomous vehicle as part of the scheme.
As readers might imagine, one of the main recommendations seems to have been to make sure 'future autonomous bus services still have a member of staff on board'.
Stagecoach plans to recruit over 20 specially trained 'autonomous bus professionals from across its East Scotland business.
Following tests, these drivers will potentially monitor the autonomous system alongside a bus ‘Captain', who could move around talking to passengers, demonstrating what a future service might feel like when the staff member is able to leave the cab while the computer does the driving.
Sam Greer, regional director for Stagecoach in Scotland, said: '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.'
Jim Hutchinson, Fusion Processing Ltd CEO, said '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.'