Stagecoach, the UK transport operator, has partnered with bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL) and Fusion Processing to develop a single-deck autonomous bus.
Fusion Processing specialises in developing sensors and control systems for driverless vehicles.
The aim is for the 12m ADL Enviro200 vehicle to be completely autonomous and driver-free, including in off-road environments.
The bus plots its path using multiple sensors, such as radar, laser, camera, and ultrasound, along with satellite navigation to detect and avoid objects in all weather conditions, at any time of day or night.
Waiting for the autobus
However, while the bus will have the autonomous capabilities to do so, it will not be allowed to pick up and transport passengers without a driver, due to current legal restrictions.
Stagecoach hopes that these restrictions will eventually be lifted so that autonomous busses can be used more widely.
In the short-term, the bus will only use its autonomous functions within the depot, meaning that a driver won’t be required for parking, or moving the vehicle into the fuelling station or bus wash.
Stagecoach believes that the use of self-driving vehicles within depots will help improve safety and efficiency, and make better use of space in its properties.
However, the autonomous systems will still be useful on the open road. Stagecoach hopes that the vehicle’s new features will help prevent accidents and improve safety for other road users. For example, when the bus is in manual mode, sensors could alert the driver that cyclists or pedestrians are in the vehicle’s blind spot.
“Stagecoach has long been at the heart of innovation within the bus industry and this is an exciting trial that will deliver the UK’s first fully autonomous single-deck bus,” said Stagecoach UK’s bus engineering director Sam Greer.
“We look forward to working with our partners on this project, which we believe could, in time, help improve safety and efficiency within our depots, and over the longer term, help transform bus travel in the future.”
The development work is being carried out at ADL’s site in Guildford, and the bus is expected to be ready by the end of this year.
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The UK’s place in autonomous vehicles has taken something of a back seat in many media reports, given the prominence of US companies, such as Waymo, Tesla, Uber, Apple, and GM, and the rise of Chinese competitors, such as Baidu.
However, a number of UK car marques have been at the forefront of smart transport partnerships recently, such as Jaguar Land Rover. Meanwhile, driverless public transport has been a focus within the British market, such as the recent autonomous POD project in the Lake District.