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Alexander Dennis starts testing his autonomous 12-metre bus

© Alexander Dennis

Autonomous buses that can travel all by themselves without a driver is no longer part of science fiction novels. Small-size examples for about ten passengers, such as the EasyMile EZ 10, the Navya Arma or the Hamburg HEAT (Hamburg Electric Autonomous Transport) have already been extensively tested on the roads and are already on the road. For example, the DB Group uses EasyMile EZ 10s in the local traffic of the Lower Bavarian spa town of Bad Birnbach between the spa district and the railway station, the town of Monheim (between Cologne and Düsseldorf) has five EasyMile EZ 10s for its “A 01” line, the Luxembourg municipality of Contern has a Navya Arma serving a line in a large industrial area in the vicinity of the railway station. UTM previously reported on all three systems. Even if, for safety reasons, an “operator” still has to drive along, who sometimes has to intervene: the small autonomous systems work.

Alexander Dennis (ADL), bus manufacturer from Larbert, Scotland, and subsidiary of the Canadian New Flyer Group, is now going a decisive step further. Because ADL is now sending five “full-grown” autonomous 12-metre wagons of its type “Enviro 200” onto the road, of the type “Enviro 200 autonomous”. This week (from 25 to 30 April), the tests will begin on public roads. They will be carried out by the well-known transport company Stagecoach in cooperation with “Fusion Processing”, ADL and “Transport Scotland”.

The tests with the five buses will take place within the framework of the project “CAVForth Pilot”, which was founded by the British “Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV)” together with the partners Fusion Processing, ADL, Stagecoach and Transport Scotland. The buses will operate (without passengers during the tests) a route between the Ferrytoll Park & Ride site in Fife and the Edinburgh Park public transport hub across the Forth Bridge. The buses are equipped with Fusion sensors that enable them to navigate pre-defined routes on their own without the need for driver intervention. When the line in question officially goes into operation after the tests, it will be able to carry more than 10,000 passengers per week on its 22.5 kilometres across the Forth Bridge.

The road tests were preceded by trials at the depot and special test tracks as well as virtual simulations.

The tests will of course be followed by the official opening of the line. Initially, “autonomous bus professionals” will be on board. These will be specially trained bus drivers whose main task will be to explain to passengers how the autonomous bus works and, above all, that it works reliably. They will also describe to passengers how it will “feel” when there will no longer be a driver on board.

Chris Gall, head of development at Alexander Dennis, emphasises that ADL is reaching a very important milestone with the start of tests of the autonomous buses on their future line. And Jim Hutchinson, CEO of Fusion Processing, adds that they are happy to be part of the most ambitious autonomous driving project currently underway. “The tests give us the opportunity to demonstrate in daily use that our hardware and software can reliably do their jobs.”

Sam Greer, Scottish Regional Director of Stagecoach said, “Stagecoach continues to look at ways to improve its offering to its passengers. This includes major investment in new technology. Not only are we opening a new bus route here, but more importantly we are taking a big step towards autonomous scheduled services.”     

© Alexander Dennis