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The UK’s First Autonomous Passenger Bus Started Road Tests This Week

Driverless buses may beat driverless cars in becoming a commonplace mode of transportation. It would make sense; buses run on fixed routes, always stop in the same places, don’t need to go too fast, and since they’re bigger and heavier, could feel like a safer venue for passengers to get used to the lack of a human driver.

Self-driving buses or shuttles have been tested in Spain, China, Norway, Paris, and elsewhere. The newest addition to this list is Scotland, where technology company Fusion Processing, in partnership with bus company Stagecoach, started testing driverless buses this week. The 14-mile route runs between a park & ride lot and a train/tram interchange near Edinburgh.

Forth Road Bridge. Image Credit: Stuart Halliday/Wikimedia Commons

Somewhat harrowingly, the route includes a long-span suspension bridge, Forth Road Bridge, which is over 2.5 kilometers long in total and runs 1,006 meters between its two main towers (that’s 3,300 feet, a little over half the total span of the Brooklyn Bridge). Though perfectly safe, it seems a more unsettling location for a bus full of passengers with no human driver to break down than, well, not a long suspension bridge.

Luckily, the bus will have a safety driver on board, as all autonomous vehicles do during road tests. The buses are classified as having Level 4 autonomy; there are five levels of automation in driving, with Level 5 being full autonomy, in which the vehicle can drive itself anywhere (around cities, on highways, on rural roads, etc.) in any conditions (rain, sun, fog, etc.) without human intervention. Level 4 means a car can operate without a safety driver under certain conditions (namely, good weather), and will still have a steering wheel.

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