NFI Group Inc.’s Alexander Dennis Ltd. (ADL) subsidiary has begun live testing of a complex and ambitious public autonomous bus pilot that begins this week in Scotland ahead of passenger services starting later this year.
Bus operator Stagecoach will be conducting on-road testing of the autonomous buses over the next two weeks in partnership with Fusion Processing, ADL and Transport Scotland. No passengers are carried in these tests, which are in preparation for the launch of the CAVForth pilot service later this year.
The Project CAVForth pilot, which is jointly funded by the U.K. government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and the project partners Fusion, ADL, Stagecoach and Transport Scotland, will see five autonomous ADL Enviro200 single deck buses operating at SAE Level 4. The buses are fitted with Fusion Processing’s 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 at a time over a 14-mile route, with capacity for over 10,000 passengers a week.
The on-road testing in Scotland follows successful depot-based trials, track testing and virtual simulation where the buses have been put through their paces to fine tune the autonomous drive systems.
“This start of on-route testing is a milestone for our autonomous bus project,” says Chris Gall, group engineering director at ADL. “In partnership with Stagecoach, Fusion Processing and Transport Scotland, Project CAVForth helps us to explore new technologies that will make buses even safer and even more efficient. As we move towards passenger services later in the year, the project will be a landmark demonstration of future technologies in transport.”
To help support the delivery of Project CAVForth, Transport Scotland recently opened a section of actively managed hard shoulder for all buses on the eastbound M8 motorway. It will help to reduce journey times and improve journey time reliability for all buses of 24 seats or more on approach to Edinburgh.
“Stagecoach is continuing to look for ways to improve the service it offers to customers, including through major investment in new technology, such as CAVForth,” states Sam Greer, regional director for Stagecoach in Scotland. “This is a hugely exciting project for Scotland, and we are pleased to be starting live testing on roads. This is a major step forward in our journey to fully launch the U.K.’s first full-sized autonomous bus service and will provide easy access to a brand-new bus route in the heart of East Scotland.”
In a further positive step forward in the project, over 20 specially trained autonomous bus professionals are soon to be recruited by Stagecoach from its East Scotland business. When the service goes live, these experienced bus drivers will monitor the autonomous system alongside a bus “captain” who will move around the saloon, talking to passengers about the service and answering any questions they may have, demonstrating what a future service might feel like when the staff member is able to leave the cab while the computer does the driving.
“We are delighted to be leading the world’s most complex and ambitious autonomous vehicle program,” adds Jim Hutchinson, CEO of Fusion Processing Ltd. “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 onboard in a few months’ time.”