Scotland tests autonomous bus service

  • May 15, 2023
  • Steve Rogerson

A Scottish project is using technology from Fusion Processing on public transport buses in a trial that could lead to a full autonomous service.

The CAVForth autonomous bus trials is led by UK firm Fusion Processing in cooperation with project partners Stagecoach, Transport Scotland, Alexander Dennis, Edinburgh Napier University and Bristol Robotics Laboratory. It is co-funded by the UK Government’s Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles.

The project’s fleet of five Alexander Dennis Enviro 200AV autonomous buses will operate a scheduled passenger service seven days a week on Stagecoach’s AB1 route. Buses will depart Ferrytoll Park & Ride in Fife for Edinburgh Park interchange every 30 minutes.

The 22km route crosses the Forth Road Bridge and is made up of A roads, motorways, bus lanes and private land. It includes a range of complex traffic manoeuvres such as roundabouts, traffic lights and weaving motorway lane changes. The vehicles will travel in mixed traffic up to 80kmph.

The AB1 service provides the first direct public transport link between Fife and the business parks and retail outlets at Edinburgh Park. It has the capacity to carry up to 10,000 passengers per week. Stagecoach’s normal bus fares apply.

The Alexander Dennis Enviro200AVs are derived from the manufacturer’s standard Enviro 200 single decker, more than 8000 of which are in operation across the UK, providing a tried and tested platform to develop autonomous driving capabilities.

The buses use Fusion Processing’s autonomous drive system, CAVStar, which uses data from a suite of sensors including cameras, lidar and radar together with artificial intelligence processing to deliver efficiency throughout the journey, in all traffic conditions. In addition, receiving information directly from traffic light systems enables the bus to plan its speed to run smoothly from one green light to the next. This intelligent autonomous driving reduces unnecessary braking and accelerating, contributing to less wear on brakes and tyres, with corresponding reductions in particulate emissions.

CAVForth operates at the highest level of autonomous vehicle technology permissible on public roads, SAE level four, requiring the buses to retain a safety driver. Twenty autonomous bus professionals have been recruited from Stagecoach East Scotland’s existing driving team.

To support the project’s research on passenger and public acceptance of autonomous vehicle technology, a second autonomous bus professional will act as bus captain, moving freely around the vehicle to engage with passengers. This demonstrates what a future autonomous service could feel like when a single bus captain can leave the cab while the computer does the driving.

“CAVForth is an exciting showcase of how our CAVSstar automated drive system can safely operate in a very complex driving environment,” said Jim Hutchinson, Fusion Processing CEO. “This pilot is globally significant and marks a step change in the operation of autonomous commercial vehicles on public roads.”

Nick Antonopoulos, deputy vice chancellor at Edinburgh Napier University, added: “CAVForth is a world-leading project, and one we are proud to be involved in. Automation offers an opportunity to transform the ways we get around in years to come, while improving safety and reducing energy consumption. As this trial gets underway, we look forward to contributing Edinburgh Napier University’s transport research expertise to understand more about the passenger experience on the AB1 service.”

Fusion Processing was founded in 2012 to design and build systems for the automation of vehicles, and technology to improve vehicle safety. Its products have clocked up over two million kilometres of service.

CAVForth follows an earlier trial in 2018 between Stagecoach, Fusion Processing and Alexander Dennis, in which a prototype bus drove itself around a depot to get fuel, go through the bus wash and park itself up at night at the touch of a button.

During testing prior to the launch, the autonomous driving system of the CAVForth vehicles covered over 1.6 million kilometres.

In the initial weeks of CAVForth public service, over 90% of the route will be covered in autonomous mode, with the remaining short sections under manual control as part of a controlled ramp-up of autonomous driving.

The safety driver is required at all times to comply with legislation for testing autonomous vehicles. The second member of staff is on board to demonstrate what an autonomous service could feel like when a single bus captain can leave the cab while the computer does the driving.

A follow-on project, CAVForth2, will extend the route to Dunfermline city centre in 2024 and add an Alexander Dennis Enviro100 AEV autonomous electric bus to the fleet.