The UK's First Full-Sized Autonomous Bus is Driving in Circles in a Depot

By Holly Brockwell on at

The UK has its first full-sized autonomous bus, and in classic Brexit Island fashion, we've shut it in a depot to drive itself mad.

The single decker has been sequestered in a bus depot in Manchester, where its only tasks are to drive itself around, park, and go to the bus wash. I mean, it's not the hardest life, but the bus presumably had big dreams that probably didn't involve making the same journey all day, every day.

The bus has a whole range of sensors on board, from normal visual cameras to ultrasound, sat nav, radar and LIDAR. Which makes human bus drivers seem a tad underpowered.

The trial is a collaboration between Stagecoach, bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis Limited and tech company Fusion Processing. The bus is an 11.5 metre long ADL Enviro200, which will live in the Sharston depot for the forseeable future, although its tech will probably be rolled out to actual road vehicles eventually.

The bus is equipped with Fusion's CAVstar navigation product and is designed to skilfully manoeuvre its way around objects (and people!) night and day in any weather, as well as figuring out the best path to take. We're not sure how many paths there are to choose from in a bus depot, though.

The software installed on the bus (when did sentences like this become normal?) will also be used for a big autonomous trial next year, when five similar self-driving buses will take passengers across the Forth Road Bridge Corridor between Fife and Edinburgh.

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."

In both the 2020 trial and the Manchester depot, the buses will only operate to autonomy level 4, which means a safety driver has to be on board at all times. Which makes it all a bit less exciting, frankly. [Engadget]