Solihull buses: We tried the driverless bus and this is what happened

Driverless bus trials are taking place at the NEC and you can get free tickets to ride

Motoring around the NEC campus at a steady pace and taking the turns of the road at ease it looks like any other shuttle bus.

But if you look towards the drivers window, you may be in for a surprise - because you won’t be able to see a driver.

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These are the first driverless bus trials in the West Midlands - using the UK’s first vehicle bought from Coventry tech firm Aurrigo.

The first ever UK driverless bus trials took place in May in Cambridge and they were hailed a success.

If these trials in Solihull are successful, then you are likely to see more of the driverless buses on the roads.

Driverless bus trials are taking place at the NEC with Solihull Council

What is it like to ride on a driverless bus?

BirminghnamWorld visited the NEC to find out all about the driverless buses.

Passengers get on board from an automatic door in the middle of the vehicle

Inside the vehicle there are plenty of pale grey seats to choose from.

They are set out for at least two people to sit in each section, with partitions set up around seats which give passengers a sense of personal space.

Inside the driverless bus being trialled at the NEC with Solihull Council

There’s a plasma screen separating the seating area from the driver, oops - we mean technology - directing the bus on its travels.

It’s pretty quiet while driving around as the bus is powered by electric.

John and Amber Hindle, from Solihull, were among the very first passengers in the country to try the new technology.

John said: “It was very smooth, very quiet, and absolutely no problem at all.

Amber said: “It was slightly surreal when I turned around and I turned around and no one had their hands on the steering wheel, I must admit.”

Ricky Raines, Operations Manager, Aurrigo - the company that designed the Solihull driverless bus

How do the buses work?

The shuttle can carry up to eight passengers and uses a suite of sensors to understand its surroundings, allowing it to move around safely, interacting with live traffic with little or no operator input.

For the purposes of the trial, in line with current UK legislation, a safety operator will be on-board at all times, who will have the ability to take control of the shuttle if required.

Ricky Raines, Operations Manager, Aurrigo said: “We use Lidar sensors which can detect if there’s any obstacles, or anything that shouldn’t be in the mapped area. They identify that and then act accordingly.”

Solihull Cllr Ian Courts

Why is Solihull Council trialling these buses?

Solihull Council has become the first local authority in the UK to invest in one of these electric, autonomous shuttle buses.

It’s part of a series of measures to improve our region’s air quality and, if successful, the council says the shuttles will be integrated into the borough’s transport network.

Cllr Ian Courts said: “We need to try these things out. We need to know that they are safe and that people are absolutely confident about it and that they work and that they’re comfortable and all the rest of it.”

“This is a great example of collaboration in the West Midlands. We have Arrigo that’s developed the driverless buses, we’ve got the Greater Birmingham and Solihull  Economic Partnership that funded this for us, so that Solihull went ahead with this.

“This is one of the parts of zero carbon 2041 plan that we want to make this region carbon neutral and that’s a really important plan.

“We’ve got to keep plugging away at ideas like this one that can help us towards that aim.”

Solihull driverless bus being trialled at the NEC

What are the plans for the future?

Solihull is working with the NEC to trial the state-of-the-art autonomous shuttle bus to gain a better  understanding of the technology, its application and how the technology might by used in the future - with safety being at the centre of the vehicle’s design.

The council say the vehicle will be particularly useful to serve quieter, rural routes.

If you want to experience a journey for yourself, free rides are being offered at the main entrance  to the NEC until October 28.

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