Stagecoach has begun on-road testing for the CAVForth autonomous bus pilot in Scotland in preparation for the service’s first passengers later this year.

Testing will take place over the next two weeks in partnership with Fusion Processing, Alexander Dennis and Transport Scotland. It comes after successful depot-based trials, track testing and virtual simulation to “fine tune” the vehicles’ autonomous drive systems.

The pilot service will eventually see five self-driving ADL Enviro200 single-deck buses operating at The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) Level 4 autonomous (where a vehicle can operate autonomously under specific conditions) over the Forth Road Bridge between the Ferrytoll Park and Ride in Fife and the Edinburgh Park train and tram interchange. Each bus is expected to eventually carry up to 36 passengers over the 14-mile journey involving a crossing of the bridge, with capacity for 10,000 passengers per week.

The buses use Fusion Processing’s CAVStar sensor and control technology. It allows them to run on pre-selected roads without driver intervention. More than 20 “autonomous bus professionals” will be recruited by Stagecoach from its East Scotland business to support the project. Those drivers will monitor the system alongside a “captain” who will communicate with passengers and demonstrate how future services will work when a staff member is able to leave the cab. Stagecoach says future autonomous bus services will have a member of staff on board to ensure passenger confidence.

To further support the project, Transport Scotland has opened a section of hard shoulder for buses on the eastbound M8 Motorway which it says will help reduce journey times and improve journey time reliability for all buses of 24 seats or more approaching Edinburgh.

“This is a hugely exciting project for Scotland and we are pleased to be starting live testing on roads today,” says Sam Greer, Regional Director for Stagecoach in Scotland. “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 East Scotland.”

Adds Chris Gall, ADL Group Engineering Director: “Today’s start of on-route testing is a milestone for our autonomous bus project. In partnership with Stagecoach, Fusion Processing and Transport Scotland, Project CAVForth 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.”

The Project CAVForth pilot is jointly funded by the UK government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles and the project partners Fusion, ADL, Stagecoach and Transport Scotland.