Another UK self-driving success as First Bus launches EV-powered service near Didcot in Oxfordshire

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MP Holden at landmark launch of UK’s 1st self-driving EV bus service

Have you heard the one about momentous UK self-driving public transport announcements being like buses? You wait for ages, then two come along at once!

Three days after the news that CAVForth is taking passengers in Scotland, came another huge win for Department for Transport’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and Fusion Processing: the launch of the UK’s first all-electric autonomous bus service.

The date was 23 January, the location was Milton Park (near Didcot and Abingdon), and this time plaudits went to consortium lead First Bus, Oxfordshire County Council, the University of the West of England, and Zipabout.

Minister for self-driving buses

Better still, Richard Holden MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State with responsibility for roads and local transport, was in attendance.

Richard Holden MP attended the landmark self-driving EV launch
Richard Holden MP attended the landmark self-driving EV launch

MP for North West Durham since 2019, Holden was previously a special adviser to former Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling.

“It’s thrilling to see our £3m investment help British firms and engineers pioneer new exciting ideas to achieve our vision of a truly efficient and sustainable transport network,” he said. “The launch of the UK’s first autonomous, zero-emission bus today is yet another key step towards achieving Net Zero, creating high-wage, high-skilled new jobs and opportunities, while truly levelling up transport across the country.”

The culmination of a five-year project, the revolutionary new service is part of the Mi-Link green travel programme being operated by First Bus.

Self-driving partners

Janette Bell, Managing Director at First Bus, said: “The launch of the UK’s first zero emission autonomous vehicle is a stellar example of how technology can support modal shift with wide partnership working between Central and Local Government, operators and local business. First Bus serves millions of customers in the UK, and we know that many take the bus because they care about reducing their carbon footprint. We cannot wait to hear some feedback on the new buses.”

Innovate UK Executive Director for Net Zero, Mike Biddle, added: “The connected and automated mobility sector is of crucial importance to the UK, with the potential to deliver safer, cleaner and more efficient transport systems across a wider range of settings. This multi-connected and autonomous vehicles project, part of a wider package of government R&D funding, will deliver the research required to support the future of multi-modal passenger carrying services.”

In a video interview with The Independent, Jim Hutchinson, CEO at Fusion Processing, explained: “It does have a safety driver on board at all times, for regulatory purposes, but it can drive itself in all conditions. It’s SAE level4, so that means within a defined area. This is a great showcase for an on-demand route.”

Self-driving on film

Fusion Processing CEO Jim Hutchinson in The Independent

If you haven’t already read it, we highly recommend our 2021 interview with Hutchinson, in which he covers ADAS, cyclist detection and autonomous vehicle safety… and promises to put the UK on the global driverless map.

Between Didcot and CAVForth, January 2023 is making a strong case for the UK’s best self-driving month ever!

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Author: Neil Kennett

Neil is MD of Featurebank Ltd. He launched in 2019.