The world’s first fleet of autonomous commuter buses is slated to go into service next month in Scotland. This follows at least one successful trial run in January alongside financial backing boosts from the UK government. On May 15, Stagecoach’s self-driving vehicles will begin operations along a 14-mile route that includes Edinburgh’s historic Forth Road suspension bridge. According to the BBC, a total of five single-decker vehicles will be in service, carrying roughly 10,000 passengers per week.
Stagecoach—akin to Greyhound in the US—announced their autonomous buses will travel along pre-selected roads and bus lanes at a top speed of 50mph, while handling traffic lights and roundabouts. Although each bus requires no human drivers, two staff members will still be aboard at all times—one to sit in the driver’s seat to monitor piloting systems, while another to assist passengers, take tickets, and help as needed.
The project comes as part of the UK government’s Project CAVForth endeavor. “CAV” stands for “connected autonomous vehicles.” Launched in 2019, CAVForth’s rollout of the autonomous bus fleet next month will mark a culmination of over four years’ of research, planning, and development. Similar CAV projects are planned in Sunderland and Belfast.
“This is an exciting milestone for this innovative and ambitious project, and I very much look forward to seeing Project CAVForth take to the roads next month,” Scotland’s Minister for Transport, Kevin Stewart, said in a statement, adding that the route “will really help Scotland establish its credentials on the world stage.”
Fully autonomous vehicles have long been a goal for major automakers and companies, with plenty of startups vying for a stake in the industry. Investors aren’t only looking to roadways for autonomous options—plans are also underway to develop similar systems for the freight train industry. Still, the technology frequently makes headlines for less-than-desirable reasons, and often faces both public and regulatory pushback.
Some of the most notable recent markers stem from issues pertaining to Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta autopilot mode, which company CEO Elon Musk has touted as being close to driving owners “to your work, your friend’s house, to the grocery store without you touching the wheel” as recently as last fall. In February, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a recall of FSD Beta technology that affected over 360,000 vehicles.