Alexander Dennis, a subsidiary of NFI Group Inc., one of the world’s leading independent global bus manufacturers, today announced that it will continue development of autonomous bus technology in the CAVForth2 project, led by Fusion Processing Ltd and supported by the UK Government.

CAVForth2 is jointly funded by the UK Government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles and project partners Fusion Processing Ltd, Stagecoach, Alexander Dennis, Edinburgh Napier University and the University of West of England.

This project will see Stagecoach, the UK’s largest bus operator, extend the 14-mile route of the existing CAVForth autonomous bus service from Edinburgh Park station across the Forth Road Bridge – poised to launch to the public this spring after extensive testing – on to Dunfermline city centre. The additional five-mile section of the route will take in more complex autonomous driving scenarios on busy category A and B roads, mixing with city centre traffic.

Capability to accomplish this challenging driving will come from an upgraded version of the CAVStar® ADS (Automated Drive System) that will be developed and supplied by Fusion Processing Ltd during the project.

CAVForth2 will utilise an autonomous version of the next-generation Enviro100EV electric bus from Alexander Dennis, also fitted with Fusion’s CAVStar® ADS. This Enviro100AEV will operate alongside five existing autonomous Alexander Dennis Enviro200AV buses from the original CAVForth project.

Alexander Dennis’s Head of Concepts and Advanced Engineering, Jamie Wilson, welcomed the confirmation of UK Government funding: “This renewed support from the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles builds on our achievements in the CAVForth project and will allow us to further develop autonomous bus technology here in the UK. This ensures the British bus industry remains at the forefront of global trends and helps secure jobs in the automotive industry. Our new Enviro100AEV will demonstrate another use case for our extremely versatile next-generation electric bus as Alexander Dennis continues to lead the transition to zero-emission mobility.”

Automated driving offers potential advantages over manually driven buses in fuel savings and reduced brake and tyre wear. There can be a 20% variance in fuel consumption across different bus drivers in a fleet. Fusion Processing will map the automated drive system to accurately match the best driver, optimizing acceleration so it is smooth and efficient. The Fusion system also interrogates the traffic lights and adjusts the vehicle’s speed to ensure they arrive on green, further reducing tyre and brake wear.

The buses will continue to be staffed by specially-trained ‘Autonomous Bus Professionals’ recruited by Stagecoach from across its East Scotland business. These experienced bus drivers will act as safety drivers and monitor the autonomous system alongside a bus ‘Captain’ who will move around the vehicle, talking to passengers about the service and answering any questions they may have.

Jim Hutchinson, CEO at Fusion Processing Ltd, said: “CAVForth2 builds on our extensive experience in developing a fleet of five full size SAE Level 4 autonomous buses, engineered to operate safely on public roads and extends the route by a further five miles into a more complex urban environment. We have every confidence that the next generation of our CAVstar® Automated Drive System, which combines a range of Radar, LiDAR and optical sensors with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence processing units, will be up to the task.” Carla Stockton-Jones, UK Managing Director of Stagecoach, said: “We’re very proud to be pioneers of this technology with our plans to roll out the UK’s first full-sized autonomous bus service in Scotland in the spring. The government funding announced today means that we can build further on this achievement by advancing the technology as we extend our Scottish bus trial to cover a longer route. We look forward to working with our partners across the country to roll out CAVForth2 and the other autonomous projects awarded funding today, which will all help to ensure that the UK remains firmly on the map for its advancements in autonomous technology.”