An autonomous bus has begun testing on routes around Edinburgh this week ahead of the trials with passengers on-board this summer.
The initial on-road tests involve a fleet of five single-deck buses operating autonomously over the Forth Road Bridge, between Ferrytoll Park and Ride in Fife, and the Edinburgh Park Train and Tram interchange.
Though the CAVForth buses will have a safety driver on board during testing, they are claimed to have Level 4 autonomy. This means that the vehicle can drive itself fully, with no input from a human required at any time, though it may only operate when specific conditions are met; for example within specifically mapped areas, such as certain bus routes. But in theory, with Level 4 autonomous vehicles, steering wheels and pedals are no longer required.
The current phase of on-road testing follows a successful series of depot-based trials, track testing and virtual simulation and, once the autonomous service goes into operation, the buses will have the capability to carry 36 passengers at a time over the 14-mile route, with capacity for up to 10,000 passengers per week.
Project CAVForth is a partnership between the transport company Stagecoach, bus builder Alexander Dennis, Fusion Processing and Transport Scotland. It’s part funded by the government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV).
Stagecoach said it will recruit 20 specially trained Autonomous Bus Professionals from within the company to monitor the autonomous systems.
Following consultation with 500 members of the public on what they’d like to see from an autonomous bus service and what would make them feel comfortable using one, these employees will be accompanied by a bus “captain” who will move around the vehicle, talking to passengers, answering any questions they may have.
The start of on-road testing was described as a “milestone” for the project by Alexander Dennis’ Group Engineering Director, Chris Gall, and hailed as “the world’s most complex and ambitious autonomous vehicle programme” by Jim Hutchinson, CEO of Fusion Processing.
“CAVForth will provide a useful service to local people as well as being a great demonstration of Fusion’s automated vehicle technology,” said Hutchinson.
“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 onboard in a few months’ time.”
The CavForth project in Edinburgh is part of a number of trials taking place around the world exploring the use and implementation of autonomous bus networks. The city of Chongqing in China already has a small-scale autonomous bus service in operation that users must book through an app and which uses wave sensors and monocular cameras to read the road ahead.
Where Chongqing’s and Edinburgh’s systems differ though is in the use of a widespread and pervasive network of cameras and sensors located all around the city of Chongqing to optimise and control the flow of traffic to ensure the buses move through junctions as smoothly as possible.
Chongqing’s use of cameras prompts a number of privacy and surveillance concerns, which, for the moment, Edinburgh’s autonomous bus programme appears to have side-stepped.
“This is a hugely exciting project for Scotland and we are pleased to be starting live testing on roads today,” said Sam Greer, Regional Director for Stagecoach in Scotland.
“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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