In a first in the UK a full-sized bus is being trialed which operates autonomously in a Manchester bus depot. The project is part of a programme being delivered by transport operator Stagecoach in partnership with bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) and technology company Fusion Processing. The project aims to implement plans for similar vehicles to run in passenger service in Scotland next year.
For now, the 11.5m single-deck vehicle is able to operate autonomously within Sharston depot that is it navigates around a Manchester bus depot by parking and manoeuvring itself into a bus wash. But the technology onboard will not only make all buses safer but will also be used again in 2020, when five autonomous buses will operate – carrying passengers – between Fife and Edinburgh, across Scotland’s Forth Road Bridge Corridor.
The ADL-manufactured bus has been fitted with the CAVstar system provided by Fusion Processing, and is being trialed by Stagecoach. The first public demonstration of the bus took place today and was attended by the chief executives of each partner organisation. The CAVstar control and sensing system has been used successfully in the UK’s largest public trial of autonomous vehicles to date including Greenwich last year and a number of other projects earlier.
The system uses multiple sensor types 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. As with all autonomous vehicle technology, cross over into manually driven vehicles is feasible where this tech might do things like warn bus drivers of cyclists or pedestrians in blind spots. The vehicles in both trials will be used autonomously to Level 4 standard, which means that a safety driver must remain on board.
The CAVForth project team, which includes Stagecoach along with partners Transport Scotland, Alexander Dennis, Fusion Processing, ESP Group, Edinburgh Napier University and University of West of England received funding of £4.35m from the UK Government’s Innovate UK fund last year.
Stagecoach Chief Executive Martin Griffiths said: “Stagecoach was the original transport disruptor, trying new things and breaking new ground, and that has never changed. This is an exciting project to trial autonomous technology on a full-sized bus for the first time in the UK. Our employees are the beating heart of our business and I believe that will remain the case, but the world is changing fast, particularly where new technology is involved, and it’s our job to lead the way in looking at ways to continually progress and improve our operations for the good of the many people who use our bus services every day.”
Jim Hutchinson, CEO of Fusion Processing Ltd said: “Our CAVstar® sensor and control system has now been successfully applied to vehicles ranging in size from two-seater electric vehicles right up to a 12m, 43 seat seater bus. Today offers a glimpse of how future bus depots can be automated for improved safety and efficiency.
“Our advanced driver-assistance systems such as CycleEye® already offer improved operational safety for buses and HGV’s today, and we anticipate further new ADAS products as spin offs from the AV bus project. Beyond this trial we look forward to continue our collaboration with Stagecoach and Alexander Dennis Limited delivering the world’s first large scale autonomous bus service in Edinburgh in 2020.”
Colin Robertson, ADL Chief Executive added: “Alexander Dennis is at the forefront of innovation in the bus industry. This trial allows us to evaluate potential benefits of autonomous technology in a real-world scenario, and feeds into our extensive work to further improve the safety of buses with the help of state-of-the-art technology.”
While this autonomous bus is still in its infancy and limited to driving around a bus depot, it is definitely a significant step in the UK’s autonomous vehicle progress. Not far behind are Volvo and Nanyang Technological University started testing autonomous buses in Singapore that are slated to begin autonomous trials in just a few weeks.