The UK’s first full-sized bus with driverless technology is being trialled by one of the country’s biggest transport firms.
Stagecoach said the vehicle will use autonomous functions to move around a depot in Manchester.
The trial paves the way for future public transport services to test their driverless technology, before eventually launching public services on the UK’s roads.
The system uses multiple sensors such as radar, optical cameras and ultrasound to plan a path for the vehicle while detecting and avoiding objects.
It is hoped this could provide future benefits during passenger journeys, such as providing a warning when a cyclist or pedestrian may be in a blind spot.
The software will form the basis of another pilot scheme next year involving five autonomous buses transporting passengers between Edinburgh and Fife across the Forth Road Bridge Corridor.
Business secretary, Greg Clark, said the driverless projects would ensure the UK builds on its strengths in innovation.
Autonomous vehicles and their technology will not only revolutionise how we travel, it will open up and improve transport services for those who struggle to access both private and public transport,’ he said last year.
‘The UK is building on its automotive heritage and strengths to develop the new vehicles and technologies and from 2021 the public will get to experience the future for themselves.’
Taxi firms Addison Lee and Jaguar Land Rover will lead two separate trials of driverless taxis in London before launching public services, again by 2021.
Stagecoach chief executive Martin Griffiths said: ‘Stagecoach was the original transport disruptor, trying new things and breaking new ground, and that has never changed.
‘This is an exciting project to trial autonomous technology on a full-sized bus for the first time in the UK.
‘Our employees are the beating heart of our business and I believe that will remain the case, but the world is changing fast, particularly where new technology is involved.’
The UK market for connected and autonomous vehicles is forecast to be worth up to £52bn by 2035.
HOW DO SELF-DRIVING CARS ‘SEE’?
Self-driving cars often use a combination of normal two-dimensional cameras and depth-sensing ‘LiDAR’ units to recognise the world around them.
However, others make use of visible light cameras that capture imagery of the roads and streets.
They are trained with a wealth of information and vast databases of hundreds of thousands of clips which are processed using artificial intelligence to accurately identify people, signs and hazards.
In LiDAR (light detection and ranging) scanning – which is used by Waymo – one or more lasers send out short pulses, which bounce back when they hit an obstacle.
These sensors constantly scan the surrounding areas looking for information, acting as the ‘eyes’ of the car.
While the units supply depth information, their low resolution makes it hard to detect small, faraway objects without help from a normal camera linked to it in real time.
In November last year Apple revealed details of its driverless car system that uses lasers to detect pedestrians and cyclists from a distance.
The Apple researchers said they were able to get ‘highly encouraging results’ in spotting pedestrians and cyclists with just LiDAR data.
They also wrote they were able to beat other approaches for detecting three-dimensional objects that use only LiDAR.
Other self-driving cars generally rely on a combination of cameras, sensors and lasers.
An example is Volvo’s self driving cars that rely on around 28 cameras, sensors and lasers.
A network of computers process information, which together with GPS, generates a real-time map of moving and stationary objects in the environment.
Twelve ultrasonic sensors around the car are used to identify objects close to the vehicle and support autonomous drive at low speeds.
A wave radar and camera placed on the windscreen reads traffic signs and the road’s curvature and can detect objects on the road such as other road users.
Four radars behind the front and rear bumpers also locate objects.
Two long-range radars on the bumper are used to detect fast-moving vehicles approaching from far behind, which is useful on motorways.
Four cameras – two on the wing mirrors, one on the grille and one on the rear bumper – monitor objects in close proximity to the vehicle and lane markings.