First Bus has commenced operation of what it says is the first zero-emission full-size autonomous bus in the UK as part of an ongoing project in Didcot. It is a 10.8m Switch Mobility Metrocity EV that has been put to work on a route between Didcot Parkway railway station and the Milton Park science, technology and business campus nearby.
The bus entered service on 7 September and it will run every 30 minutes between 0700-1830hrs six days per week until the trial ends on 30 September. A safety driver is provided at all times.
The autonomous Metrocity EV builds on the use of an autonomous Mellor Orion E battery-electric minibus on the service for seven weeks from June, during which it covered over 3,000 miles. The Orion E was also used on a circular route within Milton Park in March.
First Bus Head of Policy John Birtwistle is leading the MultiCAV consortium delivering the autonomous service in Didcot. He notes that the latest phase in the work using the Metrocity EV “gives us the opportunity to show more customers the exciting possibilities afforded by combining zero-emission and digital autonomous technology to provide a smarter, cleaner and quieter way to travel.”
The autonomous drive capability is provided by Fusion Processing’s CAVstar Automated Drive System. It utilises various sensors including radar, LiDAR and cameras to control steering, acceleration and braking. Fusion is also involved in the CAVForth autonomous bus project in Scotland that for now uses diesel vehicles.
Other members of the MultiCAV consortium are Oxfordshire County Council, the University of the West of England (UWE), and Zipabout.
UWE is conducting a programme to study the experiences of passengers and safety drivers of the autonomous bus in Didcot, as well as understanding the reactions of other users of Milton Park. Those findings will form part of an assessment of how public transport networks could change if autonomous technology was adopted more widely.