In a world first flagship project known as CAVForth a two week trial has commenced where the dream of crossing the Forth on a bus without a driver has taken an exciting step closer to reality. Initially no passengers will be carried but the plan is to carry 10,000 passengers each year on buses that can carry up to 36 passengers.
CAVForth, a pilot project lead by Fusion Processing Ltd, which will see full-sized SAE Level 4 autonomous buses running on UK roads for the first time next year. The new service will be made up of four Alexander Dennis Enviro200 single deck buses running a 14-mile route crossing the iconic Forth Road Bridge. It will provide capacity for up to 10,000 passengers a week, connecting Ferrytoll Park & Ride in Fife with the Edinburgh Park transport hub and is expected to be popular with commuters, students, day trippers and tourists as well as novelty riders keen to be first to say they have been driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The new service will make it easy for people to switch to public transport by providing a brand new bus route in the heart of East Scotland. It comes off the back of the COP26 climate change summit where bus operator Stagecoach said that the fastest way to make progress towards the UK’s net zero ambitions is by people switching from making car journeys and instead travelling by public transport, cycling or walking.
The four Enviro200 buses, which will feature the special new livery, are currently being fitted out with Fusion Processing Ltd’s automated drive system; CAVstar. CAVstar is a ground-breaking Automated Driving System (ADS) that combines Radar, LiDAR, optical cameras with high performance processing and AI to enable the buses to operate at SAE Level 4 in the highly complex Operational Design Domain that includes motorways, A-roads, minor roads, bus lanes, roundabouts, junctions and traffic lights.
The vehicles are also being modified to have a second set of steering and braking systems which are designed in as backup systems for increased safety. The automated driving system is therefore expected to improve safety in addition to energy savings through optimised application of throttle and brakes. The buses are put through their paces with an array of virtual and track testing to ensure all systems are functioning as expected before on-road testing begins later this year.
Jim Hutchinson, Fusion Processing Ltd CEO, said: “We are delighted to be leading on the world’s most complex and ambitious autonomous vehicle programme. CAVForth is an exciting pilot service and a great demonstration of our automated vehicle technology. The vehicles are fitted with CAVstar, our automated driving system which combines our own hardware and software to create, safe, full-sized buses, operating at SAE Level 4. The buses will be operating on a 28 mile round trip route that includes motorways, single carriageway A-roads, minor roads, bus lanes, roundabouts and junctions with and without traffic lights. We believe it will be the most comprehensive Autonomous bus demonstration to date.”
Sam Greer, Regional Director for Stagecoach in Scotland, said: “We are all very excited to be marking the next major milestone in our autonomous bus project, with buses planned to be on the road in early summer next year. The new service will provide a bus link between Fife and Edinburgh Park which currently does not exist and we hope will encourage more people to ditch the car, skip traffic jams and enjoy a relaxed journey in a dedicated bus lane and with new innovative state of the art technology.”
There are six levels of driving automation, with zero to two meaning a driver must constantly supervise and is always driving, while three to five allows the vehicle to drive itself.
Being able to operate at level four, it means no driver attention is required for safety but self-driving is only supported in limited areas or circumstances. Outside these the driver must intervene.
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