The UK’s first full-sized autonomous bus started live testing this week in Scotland as part of the CAVForth project.

Transport operator Stagecoach, in partnership with Fusion Processing, bus maker Alexander Dennis and Transport Scotland, will be carrying out on-road testing – with a safety driver and without passengers – in preparation for the launch of a pilot service in late summer.

Project CAVForth, which is jointly funded by the UK Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles, will see five single-deck autonomous buses operating at SAE Level 4 over the Forth Road Bridge between Ferrytoll Park and Ride in Fife and the Edinburgh Park Train and Tram interchange.

The buses are fitted with Fusion Processing’s sensor and control technology, CAVstar, that enables them to run on pre-selected roads. The buses will provide a service capable of carrying up to 36 passengers on the 20km bridge 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.

To help support the delivery of Project CAVForth, Transport Scotland recently opened a section of Actively Managed Hard Shoulder for buses of 24 seats or more on the M8 eastbound. It will help to reduce journey times and improve reliability on the approach to Edinburgh.

As part of Project CAVForth, around 500 members of the public have provided feedback on what would make them feel comfortable and confident in travelling, a key finding being that passengers want a member of staff to be on board.

Consequently Stagecoach is in the process of recruiting over 20 Autonomous Bus Professionals from across 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 questions, demonstrating what a future service might feel like.

Jim Hutchinson, Fusion Processing CEO, said, “We are 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 automated vehicle technology. The buses are fitted with CAVstar 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.”

Chris Gall, Alexander Dennis Group Engineering Director, said “The start of on-route testing is a milestone for our autonomous bus project and 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.”

Chris Gall, Group Engineering Director at Alexander Dennis is speaking at MOVE in London on 15/16 June. With over 600 speakers across 33 themed stages MOVE is the world’s most important mobility event. Find further details here