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Driver-less bus trial to be undertaken this summer between Inverness Campus and the nearby retail park


By Louise Glen

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Self-driving shuttle bus waiting at bus station. The bus station equipped with solar panels for electric power.
Self-driving shuttle bus waiting at bus station. The bus station equipped with solar panels for electric power.

Driver-less buses could be used around Inverness as soon as summer 2021.

In an ambitious project led by transport partnership Hitrans, automatic vehicles will be piloted around Inverness Campus, thanks to European Planning for Autonomous Vehicles (PAV) funding.

It is hoped the 250,000 Euro project will enable other driver-less vehicles known as autonomous vehicles (AV) to be used in the Highlands in a bid to move away from private car use.

Hitrans also hopes to revive plans in future for a driverless shuttle between the planned railway station at Inverness Airport, the airport terminal and Tornagrain.

In a report to the Hitrans board, it was noted: "Progress has been made on the project after an initial meeting with Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to discuss the potential for a pilot at Inverness Campus.

"Inverness Campus has been identified as a suitable location for an AV trial as it fits well with the strategic vision of the area to promote multi-modal travel and move away from private car use."

The project will run for a number of weeks and carry six or 12 passengers. A driver will be on board to take over if needed.

Interior of automated remotely operated bus in Helsinki. Unmanned public transport test on street. Passenger sitting on seat, waiting on bus stop.
Interior of automated remotely operated bus in Helsinki. Unmanned public transport test on street. Passenger sitting on seat, waiting on bus stop.

It continued: "Piloting at Inverness Campus would also be complementary to a fellow pilot in the PAV project in Hannover, Germany, trialling an autonomous shuttle bus between a tram stop and a new university campus."

AVs use sensors and software to control, navigate and drive. Projects have taken place across Europe where it is hoped they will be in widespread use by the 2030s.

Hitrans is now working on an implementation plan covering ambitions and scale of the pilot, infrastructure requirements, review of legislation, local financing mechanisms, governance models and a risk management plan.

The report said that the intended launch is summer 2021 – if delivery timescales allow. Tenders for the vehicle will be sought early this year.

To date a meeting has been held, and Hitrans has provided HIE with an overview of the project to share with the Inverness Campus Owner Association and other stakeholders as it explores next steps.

The report continued: "In partnership with Robert Gordon University, Hitrans is also investigating a secondary pilot opportunity which would test micro connected autonomous vehicles (CAV) in Orkney. The use case is still under development and will be for a logistics or related use rather than for moving people."

It is understood the project in Orkney is to test the technology for use in settings such as remote airports.

A spokeswoman for HIE, said: “As the Inverness Campus developer, we are in discussions with Hitrans about its proposal to run a trial of an autonomous shuttle mini bus across the campus and into the retail park later this year.

"The campus is popular with walkers, cyclists and many recreational users and we are keen to improve access to and from the campus by providing alternatives to car use and extending the low-carbon travel options that have formed part of the development from the outset.”

Read more Hitrans news.


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