Autonomous public bus service launches in Scotland

By Becky Schultz15 May 2023

What is being hailed as one of the most ambitious and complex autonomous bus trials worldwide began operations today in Edinburgh, Scotland. Called CAVForth, the project is led by Fusion Processing Ltd. in cooperation with partners Stagecoach, Transport Scotland, bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis, Edinburgh Napier University and Bristol Robotics Laboratory. It is co-funded by the UK Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

Alexander Dennis Enviro200AV autonomous bus Five Alexander Dennis Enviro200AV autonomous buses equipped with Fusion Processing’s CAVStar autonomous drive system are now in operation in Scotland. (Photo: Fusion Processing)

Following live testing on Scottish roads last April, five Alexander Dennis Enviro200AV autonomous buses have now began operation, as of May 15th, of a scheduled passenger service every 30 minutes, seven days a week, on Stagecoach’s new AB1 route. The 14-mile route is made up of A-roads, bus lanes and private land and includes a range of complex traffic maneuvers, such as roundabouts, traffic lights and motorway lane changes. The vehicles will travel in mixed traffic up to 50 mph.

CAVForth operates at SAE Level 4, the highest level of autonomous vehicle technology currently permissible on public roads, requiring the buses to retain a safety driver. In the initial weeks of CAVForth public service, more than 90% of the route will be covered in autonomous mode, with the remaining short sections under manual control as part of a controlled ramp-up of autonomous driving.

To support research on passenger and public acceptance of autonomous vehicle technology, a second autonomous bus professional will act as bus captain, moving freely around the vehicle to engage with customers. In total, 20 autonomous bus professionals have been recruited from Stagecoach East Scotland’s existing driving team.

The buses used in the project have been derived from Alexander Dennis’ standard Enviro200 single decker, more than 8000 of which are currently operating across the UK. The Enviro200AV buses use Fusion Processing’s CAVStar autonomous drive system, which utilizes data from a suite of sensors including cameras, LiDAR and radar together with artificial intelligence processing to deliver optimum efficiency throughout the journey, in all traffic conditions, Fusion Processing stated. Receiving information directly from traffic light systems will also enable the bus to plan its speed to run smoothly from one green light to the next, reducing unnecessary braking and accelerating.

“CAVForth is an exciting showcase of how our CAVstar Automated Drive System can safely operate in a very complex driving environment,” said Jim Hutchinson, Fusion Processing CEO. “This pilot is globally significant and marks a step change in the operation of autonomous commercial vehicles on public roads.”

“Automation offers an opportunity to transform the ways we get around in years to come, while improving safety and reducing energy consumption,” Professor Nick Antonopoulos, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice Principal of Research & Innovation at Edinburgh Napier University, commented. “As this trial gets underway, we look forward to contributing Edinburgh Napier University’s transport research expertise to understand more about the passenger experience on the AB1 service.”

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