Autonomous Driving Bus to Begin Service in Scotland
Driverless vehicles have been something of a sensation since their recent inception. This is despite not being available to the general public yet. Although impressive still, hands-free driving tech from the likes of Tesla isn’t the same as totally driverless.
Vehicles that don’t require a driver at all are the next step. And Scotland has taken the initiative with its first ever autonomously driven public bus.
Scotland’s Self-Driving Bus Launches on May 15th
Dubbed Project CAVForth, the Stagecoach bus route across the Forth Road Bridge in Northeastern Scotland will include five autonomous buses starting next month. The route stretches across 14-miles beginning in Fife and ending in Edinburgh Park.
The buses will have the capacity to transport approximately 10k passengers per week at speeds of up to 50 mph. This route will be limited to certain roads at certain scheduled intervals.
Will the Autonomous Bus Actually Have No One in the Driver’s Seat?
Although the bus will not be operated by way of a driver, there will be a ‘safety driver’ in the driver’s seat to ensure that everything goes according to plan and that everyone stays safe in the unlikely event that this new technology doesn’t work the way it should.
The need for a safety driver should be temporary until the public get accustomed to the idea of vehicles on the road that have no one operating them manually. The safety driver is also due to a requirement by law that a driver must be present in the driver’s seat as fully autonomous vehicles are not yet legal for the roads in UK. This law is currently undergoing revision though.
In addition to the safety driver, the bus will have a ‘bus captain’ to manage passengers getting tickets and to help in other ways. However, it seems likely that in the future this role will be filled by AI as well.
How Does the Autonomous Technology Work?
Self-driving technology is extremely complex. That’s why it’s such a slow-developing field. But to summarize, the technology functions by way of sensors and machine learning. It detects objects, measures their distance and velocity in relation to the vehicle, and makes any necessary adjustments accordingly.
LiDAR camera sensors can identify objects such as other vehicles, pedestrians, curbs, and even things like fire hydrants. In essence, it’s AI operating the vehicle so the driver doesn’t have to.
Tesla famously claims to that their autopilot function is safer than a human driver. Although the system can have faster reflexes, it's not quite equal to human control yet in terms of overall efficiency and safety.
Ultimately, we can expect self-driving technology as a whole to progress to the point of being far safer than any human driver. This may take many years though.
Other Cities Developing Driverless Transportation Solutions
There are several other European cities with plans to roll out autonomous vehicles. Oslo, Norway; Geneva, Switzerland; and Kronach, Germany will begin a one-year trial of a total of 45 autonomous buses in 2025. Seoul, South Korea; and Rome, Italy have each previously had trial runs with autonomous bus services. So Scotland is not the world’s first to try autonomous driving out for public transportation, but they could be the first to keep it in service long-term.
Driverless vehicle technology is spreading around the world at a relatively slow rate, but over the coming years we can expect that rate to increase dramatically when the technology gets more refined and even safer. Then, it’ll be completely normal to see a bus drive by with no one in the driver’s seat.