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The UK’s first full-sized autonomous bus will be trialled in Scotland this month to prepare for a pilot service in the summer. On-road tests have been given the green light following successful depot trials, track tests, and virtual simulations. 

The buses, designed by engineers at Fusion Processing, work using ground-breaking new technologies; intuitive sensors and a CAVstar control system. These functionalities mean the buses can drive on pre-programmed routes without the need for a safety driver.

The CAVstar system uses complex processors to run proprietary algorithms, working in conjunction with sensory radars, ultrasonics, and optical cameras to provide a full 360° situational awareness. This technology allows the bus to analyse and understand its environment, anticipate the movement of other vehicles or pedestrians, plot a safe course, and generate the necessary inputs to the steering, braking, and throttle.

The vehicle’s intuitive features allow autonomous controls to run on SAE Level 4, this means that the driverless technology can intervene appropriately if things go wrong or if there is a system failure. The project, named CAVForth, will be part-funded by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) in partnership with Stagecoach and is estimated to cost around £6.1m. 

If the on-road trials prove successful, the proposed CAVForth pilot will see five autonomous buses operating a 14-mile route across Forth Road Bridge between Ferrytoll Park and Ride in Fife and the Edinburgh Park Train and Tram interchange. The buses will be capable of carrying up to 36 passengers, with a capacity of over 10,000 passengers each week. 

The switch to driverless technology is likely to raise some controversy as building trust in automated buses will take time. In a survey of 500 members of the public, one of their main recommendations was to ensure that autonomous services still have a member of staff on board.

The trial is set to be a landmark demonstration of future technologies. By explaining and exhibiting the successful operation of a driverless service, the project will help to build trust in these future technologies. 

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.”

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