UK’s first full-sized autonomous bus takes to Scotland’s roads

Scotland’s newest bus will be driving itself as it becomes the UK’s first full-sized autonomous vehicle of its kind to take to the roads.

Stagecoach will be carrying out on-road testing of its self-driving bus from Monday in preparation of passengers stepping aboard later this summer.

Sam Greer, regional director of the company in Scotland, hailed it as a “hugely exciting project”.

“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 Scotland,” he said.

The CAVForth pilot will see five single-deck autonomous buses operating over the Forth Road Bridge between Ferrytoll Park and Ride in Fife and the Edinburgh Park train and tram interchange.

The buses are stuffed full of sensors which enable them to run on pre-selected roads without the safety driver having to intervene or take control.

When operational to passengers, the buses will provide a service capable of carrying up to 36 passengers 14 miles across the bridge, with a capacity of 10,000 passengers a week.

Stagecoach is partnering with Fusion Processing, Alexander Dennis and Transport Scotland for the project, and the scheme has won the financial support of the UK Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

Jim Hutchinson, chief executive of Fusion Processing, said he was “delighted to be leading the world’s most complex and ambitious autonomous vehicle programme”.

“CAVForth will provide a useful service to local people as well as being a great demonstration of Fusion’s automated vehicle technology,” he said.

“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 on-road testing in Scotland follows successful depot-based trials, track testing and virtual simulation which Stagecoach said put the autonomous buses through their paces to fine-tune the drive systems.

When fully operational in the summer, each bus will have a experienced driver monitoring the system alongside a bus captain who will move around the vehicle and talk to customers about the service.

Stagecoach said this would demonstrate what a future service might feel like when the staff member is able to leave the cab while the computer does the driving.

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.

Able to operate at a SAE (Society of Automotive Engineers) 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.

Chris Gall, group engineering director of Alexander Dennis, said the start of on-route testing was a “milestone for our autonomous bus project”.

“As we move towards passenger services later in the year, the project will be a landmark demonstration of future technologies in transport.”