The United Kingdom is set to make history as it unveils its first driverless bus network in Scotland, marking a significant milestone in the advancement of autonomous transportation. The groundbreaking service, which will commence operations next week, will feature drivers ready to take control in case of emergencies, ensuring passenger safety.

Operated by Stagecoach, the service aims to transport approximately 10,000 passengers per week along a 14-mile (22.5-kilometer) route using five single-deck buses. This innovative initiative will become the world’s first automated local bus service, revolutionizing public transportation as we know it.

According to Peter Stevens, the policy director of Stagecoach bus service, the autonomous technology powering these buses has undergone extensive testing. However, this marks the first time it has been integrated into a registered local bus service. The demonstration near Edinburgh showcased the remarkable progress made in autonomous bus technology.

Starting from Monday, the driverless buses will travel at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, adhering to UK regulations that require a safety driver to monitor the technology. Although fully autonomous vehicles are not yet permitted on public roads, the buses will operate in autonomous mode with drivers present to intervene if necessary.

During autonomous operation, drivers will not need to touch the controls, allowing them to focus on passenger safety and assistance. Ticketing and passenger inquiries will be handled by a conductor onboard, streamlining the overall customer experience.

The buses will be equipped with advanced onboard systems designed to detect other road users, ensuring collision prevention. Optical cameras and radar will scan the road, specifically looking out for pedestrians and obstacles. The control system, powered by an artificial intelligence engine, receives data from various sources within the bus to accurately determine its location and calculate the safest route to the destination.

Peter Stevens emphasized the numerous benefits of this driverless bus service, including enhanced safety, improved fuel efficiency, and an overall superior experience for passengers. The system’s 360-degree vision and swift response time surpass human capabilities, making it a reliable and secure mode of transportation.

The service will continuously learn and adapt as the buses collect extensive data during their operations. This accumulation of valuable information will enable further advancements in autonomous travel, as Stagecoach plans to gradually increase the level of autonomous functionality based on the data analysis.

Bus driver Callum Jones expressed his excitement about this technological revolution, highlighting how it represents a significant step forward in the transportation industry. This innovative initiative not only builds public confidence in driverless vehicles but also reinforces Scotland’s position as a leader in embracing emerging technologies.

The UK joins other countries in exploring the potential of driverless buses. South Korea conducted a driverless bus experiment in Seoul to familiarize people with autonomous vehicles on the roads. Meanwhile, Malaga, Spain, introduced Europe’s first driverless electric bus in 2021, and Singapore initiated a trial of self-driving buses earlier in the same year.

As the UK pioneers this driverless bus network, it paves the way for a future where autonomous transportation becomes more prevalent, revolutionizing the way people travel and shaping the landscape of urban mobility.

By Impact Lab