Full Size Automated Bus Begins Depot Trials

Stagecoach Manchester tests the world’s first autonomous bus at Sharston depot

For several years, Greater Manchester has been at the forefront of revolutionary developments in passenger transport. Almost 50 years ago, the Chloride battery bus – an all battery powered single decker bus – led to today’s electric vehicles.

Yesterday, as seen on North West Tonight and in the Manchester Evening News, Stagecoach Manchester tested Alexander Dennis’ new creation: an autonomous version of an Enviro200 single decker bus. This was also made possible with custom made software by Fusion Processing.

The 11.5 metre single decker bus was seen operating from Sharston depot. It is claimed that Fusion Processing’s CAVstar® system has future road safety benefits whilst the vehicle is operating in manual mode. The bus was tested within the depot environment which covered parking and moving into the bus wash.

The first demonstration of Alexander Dennis’ autonomous bus was overseen by the chief executives of each of the three companies. Though the CAVstar® system was tested with smaller vehicles, its assignment with a full size single decker bus proved to be a successful one.

The system uses multiple sensor types including radar, LIDAR, optical cameras and ultrasound, along with satellite navigation to detect and avoid objects. In all weathers, day and night, it can plan an optimum path for the vehicle.

The software being used in the pilot vehicle also forms the basis for a significant autonomous vehicle trial due to get underway in 2020. That year, a fleet of five autonomous buses will be seen in revenue earning service between Fife and Edinburgh, across the Forth Road Bridge Corridor.

Funding of £4.35m from the UK Government’s Innovate UK fund was awarded last year to the CAVForth project team. This includes Stagecoach along with partners Transport Scotland, Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL), Fusion Processing Ltd, ESP Group, Edinburgh Napier University and University of West of England. The vehicles in both trials will be used autonomously to Level 4 standard which means that a safety driver must remain on board in line with UK regulations.

The technology can also be used to help improve the safety of road users in manually driven vehicles.  For example, the sensor system on the vehicle can be used to provide assistance to the driver by warning of cyclists or pedestrians that may be in the blind spot or arrive unexpectedly close to the vehicle.

Stagecoach Chief Executive Martin Griffiths said: “Stagecoach was the original transport disruptor, trying new things and breaking new ground, and that has never changed. This is an exciting project to trial autonomous technology on a full-sized bus for the first time in the UK.

“Our employees are the beating heart of our business and I believe that will remain the case, but the world is changing fast, particularly where new technology is involved, and it’s our job to lead the way in looking at ways to continually progress and improve our operations for the good of the many people who use our bus services every day.”

Jim Hutchinson, CEO of Fusion Processing Ltd said: “Our CAVstar® sensor and control system has now been successfully applied to vehicles ranging in size from two-seater electric vehicles right up to a 12m, 43 seater bus. Today offers a glimpse of how future bus depots can be automated for improved safety and efficiency.

“Our advanced driver-assistance systems such as CycleEye® already offer improved operational safety for buses and HGVs today, and we anticipate further new ADAS products as spin offs from the AV bus project.

“Beyond this trial we look forward to continue our collaboration with Stagecoach and Alexander Dennis Limited delivering the world’s first large scale autonomous bus service in Edinburgh in 2020.”

Colin Robertson, ADL Chief Executive added: “Alexander Dennis is at the forefront of innovation in the bus industry. This trial allows us to evaluate potential benefits of autonomous technology in a real-world scenario, and feeds into our extensive work to further improve the safety of buses with the help of state-of-the-art technology.”

Will I be seeing autonomous buses on the 346?

In the foreseeable future, a resounding “no” if your interpretation is driver-free is like the Docklands Light Railway. By law, the bus needs to be manned to ensure passenger safety. An automaton cannot radio through to the depot’s control centre if a passenger refuses to pay their fare. Though an Alexa style gadget in the dashboard could tell you the next bus times, there’s no way it could stop the vehicle if passengers are causing a nuisance on board.

Basically, autonomous technologies will exist to make the driver’s life easier. S/he would still be tendering fares and making sure smart cards are scanned on the ticket machine.

The shape of things to come? An Alexander Dennis Enviro200 about to begin its automated journey within Sharston depot.

An EM60 Presentation, 19 March 2019.

Photographs courtesy of Tangerine PR Limited.

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