Next time you board a bus in Scotland and it’s driving itself, don’t freak out — this is all part of a government plan to bring self-driving tech into the mainstream.
Five fully autonomous buses will be taking to the streets near Edinburgh next month, announced Stagecoach, the UK’s largest bus and coach operator, who will be managing the fleet.
The UK government said the project, named CAVForth, would be the world’s first full-size, self-driving public bus service. CAV stands for “connected and autonomous vehicles.”
The service, which aims to transport 10,000 passengers weekly, will initially run a 22.5km circuit route, including a stretch across the iconic Forth Road Bridge – one of Scotland’s major landmarks.
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The vehicles have sensors enabling them to travel on pre-selected roads at up to 80kph. The buses will be operating at AV Level 4, meaning they have a trained safety driver onboard, but the driver will not be expected to touch the controls whilst the vehicle is in autonomous mode.
Fully driverless cars are not legally permitted in the UK. A safety driver is required at all times in all autonomous vehicles, although the government is working on an updated legal and assurance framework.
Scottish Minister for Transport, Kevin Stewart, said the “innovative and ambitious project” was an “exciting milestone” that will help Scotland “establish its credentials on the world stage.”
Estimated to cost around £6.1m, Project CAVForth is part-funded by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV), delivered in partnership with Innovate UK. It is part of the UK government’s £100 million Intelligent Mobility Fund, which aims to speed up the commercialisation of self-driving transport technology.
CAVForth’s rollout of the autonomous bus fleet next month will mark a culmination of over four years’ of research, planning, and development. Similar CAV projects are planned in Sunderland and Belfast.
Driverless buses are not a new concept. In 2021, a new driverless electric bus began operating in Malaga, Spain, in a project presented as a first in Europe.
In the UK, the Cambridge Connector project, which aims to deploy 13 automated electric vehicles across the city, is set to launch next year.
Perhaps Europe’s biggest self-driving car project is ULTIMO, which has a budget of over €55m and will test autonomous public transport services in three European cities: Geneva, Switzerland; Kronach, Germany; and Oslo, Norway.
Fully autonomous vehicles have long been a goal for major automakers and companies, with plenty of startups vying for a stake in the industry. It is, however, unlikely that self-driving cars without safety drivers will be spotted on public roads within the next decade.