Edinburgh driverless buses: We try out Edinburgh's driverless buses as 'world first' experience launches
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A milestone moment for Edinburgh, and perhaps the world, happened with the launch of Stagecoach’s new fleet of automated buses – a project believed to be the first autonomous bus project of this complexity and ambition globally.
Following four years of testing, Stagecoach and several other partners proudly launched the bus service to the public, carrying its first passengers 14 miles between Ferrtoll and Edinburgh Park. Curious about this new innovative technology, we went along to experience it for ourselves.
After reading about ‘driverless’ and ‘self-driving’ in the news recently – I turned up expecting some kind of sci-fi experience – but I soon learned that these labels are perhaps presenting a distorted picture on Stagecoach’s new fleet of buses.
Getting on-board the AB1 service (pronounced Abby) I was struck by the distinct familiarity of the experience – to point I felt a bit silly expecting some overwhelming futuristic experience. A safety driver remains behind the wheel – which to be honest made me more comfortable but also quickly remove any Fifth Element projections I had before alighting the vehicle.
The presence of a bus captain – who speaks to passengers and issues tickets – is just like having a bus conductor from yesteryear and it makes the experience more welcoming. The leather chairs complete with modern gizmos like wireless phone charging points also make for a nice touch.
Leaving Ferrytoll, the bus remained in manual mode and after a few minutes the safety driver allows the automated technology to take over – but by watching the driver’s review mirror you can see all eyes are on controls and road ahead. The AB1 moves, sounds and feels like a regular bus and there was no point that the journey felt unsafe or out of control and looking around the bus it was obvious passengers did not show any concerns about travelling on the automated service.
Passengers who go in expecting a futuristic Minority Report-esque experience may depart the bus feeling underwhelmed – but the main thing to note from this new bus service is that the trail is not to spearhead driverless technology but to evaluate whether automated technology can make for a more efficient form of travel.
Although the buses have already been tested over one million miles prior to carrying passengers, the AB1 service is still in its relatively early stages and it may be many years before the public can expect to a driverless bus making the rounds.