The UK’s first full-size autonomous bus gave its first public demonstration last week at Coach & Bus UK. It operated in SAE Level 4, independently negotiating obstacles including a cyclist as it manoeuvred confidently around an NEC car park.
Members of the public were invited to embark on the 11.5m Alexander Dennis Enviro200 bus and experience the demonstration from onboard, as it travelled autonomously from a mock-up bus wash to a fuelling station before disembarking at a bus stop at this year’s Coach & Bus UK event in Birmingham.
Fusion Processing CEO Jim Hutchinson said, “We’re delighted to have the opportunity to publicly demonstrate the finesse with which the bus negotiates the complex route we’ve set for it. This is testimony to the skills of the engineers at Fusion Processing, Alexander Dennis and Stagecoach Group, and the working partnership we’ve formed. We’re very much looking forward to moving into the operational phase of CAVForth next year.”
Fusion Processing, together with Alexander Dennis and Stagecoach Group, developed the UK’s first full-size autonomous bus to prove the technology prior to embarking on CAVForth, an Innovate UK-funded pilot. The CAVForth project is led by autonomous technology innovators Fusion Processing Ltd, along with partners Stagecoach Group, Transport Scotland, Alexander Dennis, Edinburgh Napier University, Bristol Robotics Lab and the University of the West of England.
The trial, which goes live mid-2020, will include five autonomous single-decker vehicles, which will navigate a 15-mile route between Fife and Edinburgh, crossing the Forth Road Bridge.
The buses, operated by Stagecoach East Scotland, will operate autonomously to Level 4 standard, which means that a driver must remain on board during any journey, in line with UK regulations.
Martin Griffiths, Chief Executive of Stagecoach Group, added: “Stagecoach has always been at the forefront of innovation and harnessing new technology to launch new products and break new ground. Our industry, our customers and our employees can benefit hugely from autonomous technology as it makes our services safer, more efficient and helps deliver better journeys.
“We are also investing heavily in the skills and development of our people. Alongside new technology developments, our employees will continue to play a critical role in delivering sustainable mobility services that our customers trust and rely on.”
The autonomous buses are capable of carrying up to 42 passengers and will provide a service covering 15 miles across the Forth Road Bridge to Edinburgh Park train and tram interchange. With buses scheduled every 20 minutes, this could enable an estimated 10,000 weekly journeys.
The vehicle’s autonomy is provided by Fusion Processing’s CAVstar control and sensing system, integrated with the vehicle’s steering, throttle and braking systems. CAVstar was utilised successfully in the UK’s largest public trial of autonomous vehicles to-date, staged in Greenwich last year, involving a number of other projects including a two-seater Twizy and an off-road vehicle.
The system employs multiple sensor methodology, 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 accordingly.
Earlier this year, Stagecoach, Alexander Dennis and Fusion Processing announced the successful completion of a live trial with the first full-size autonomous vehicle within Sharston Stagecoach depot.
The bus was used in autonomous mode only within the depot environment, to carry out basic movements such as parking and moving into the fuelling station and bus wash. Using self-driving vehicles more widely within bus depots could help improve safety, efficiency and space-utilisation within the depot.