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Say watt?! UK’s first electric autonomous bus service begins at Milton Park

The UK’s first ever fully electric autonomous bus service launched on Thursday 2 March at Milton Park, a leading science, technology and business community in Oxfordshire, giving people the chance to experience the future of green travel for free.

The current route shuttles passengers around Milton Park from the Park’s flexible workspace, the Bee House, to its Milton Feast street food market via stops on Western Avenue and Innovation Drive. Journeys further afield to Didcot Parkway train station are expected to launch later in the year.

Operated by First Bus, the 15-seat, single decker minibus is fully accessible for wheelchair and pushchair users and from Friday 3 March will run every 15 minutes between 7am to 6.30pm Monday to Saturday. A qualified safety driver is on board the bus at all times, able to take control of the vehicle, if required.

The Mi-Link journey planner, developed by Zipabout, has been customised for Milton Park to provide real-time updates on the service’s operation times using every day apps including WhatsApp, the first of its kind to do so. Each bus stop provides details of the route and a QR code to scan for live updates.

After their journey, passengers may be asked to complete a short survey online or be approached in person by one of the University of the West of England (UWE) project team for their views. The aim of the research is to understand people’s experience of the new travel options and how the new technologies can benefit the wider public.

The Mi-Link service is integrated with Milton Park’s bike and e-bikes share scheme – available since 2020 – with bikes located at points around Milton Park and at Didcot Parkway train station. People can find the closest available bikes to them using the Donkey Republic app.

The launch of the new autonomous bus service follows the project’s successful demonstration day on Monday 23 January that took place at the Park’s flexible workspace, the Bee House, attended by local business and political leaders, occupiers, Buses Minister Richard Holden MP and the project’s consortium partners.

Veronica Reynolds, Sustainability and Community Manager at Milton Park, said: “The free autonomous bus service will enable people visiting or working at Milton Park to travel emissions-free to key destinations around the Park, reducing the need to use a car.

“It’s particularly useful for people wanting to grab a tasty lunch at the Milton Feast, available Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We’re really looking forward to hearing more from our occupiers, visitors and the wider community on their experience of using the autonomous bus, e-bikes and journey planner. Their feedback will be pivotal to shaping the next steps of cutting-edge and sustainable travel in the UK.”

John Birtwistle, Head of Policy at First Bus, said: “Today is a landmark for public transport in this country. This service brings together technologies in zero emission bus design, vehicle movement and travel planning to create a new experience.

“First Bus serves millions of customers in the UK, and we know that so many of our customers take the bus because they care about our planet and reducing their carbon footprint. We’re excited to now offer them an even smarter, greener and quieter way to travel, and we cannot wait to hear some feedback on the new service.”

Cllr Duncan Enright, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Travel and Development Strategy, said: “Oxfordshire is at the forefront of the developments in autonomous vehicles and we, as a council, are proud to be a partner. Innovation like this has an important role to play in helping us achieve our goal of creating a net-zero transport network by 2040.”

Professor Graham Parkhurst, UWE project lead, said: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to explore with people what they think and feel about using the new transport technologies at Milton Park.

“The information will advance our research on how to travel more sustainably, both at Milton Park and at similar locations across the country.”

Daniel Chick, CTO of Zipabout, said: “We’re very excited to see the launch of this innovative fully electric autonomous bus service, which integrates with Zipabout’s technology to provide passengers with the customised Mi-Link journey planner.

“As part of the service, passengers now have hassle-free access to a variety of tools helping them travel around Milton Park seamlessly. With no cumbersome app to download, they can receive real-time information about all the Mi-Link services through their favourite channels, including WhatsApp or SMS. Using the data and insight from the Zipabout Platform, local authorities and operators can now better understand transport demand in the area, paving the way to helping people get to and around Milton Park more sustainably.”

Funded by a commercial and private sector partnership as well as the UK Department for Transport’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) through Innovate UK, Mi-Link has been delivered by an experienced and diverse consortium of organisations.

Led by First Bus, the consortium comprising Fusion Processing Ltd, Oxfordshire County Council, University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) and Zipabout with Milton Park (as the host location) has together brought this ambitious five-year project into fruition.

Using cutting-edge technology, the Mi-Link project uses Fusion Processing Ltd’s CAVstar® Automated Drive System that combines a range of sensors including radar, LiDAR and optical cameras with state-of-the-art artificial intelligence to control all steering, acceleration and braking without the need for human intervention. As a fully electric and zero-emission service, the Mi-Link bus launch marks a pioneering step for the future of sustainable transport and mobility.

As a renowned innovation and technology cluster, Milton Park proved to be the ideal test-bed site for the Mi-Link project, acting as a living lab for these landmark trials. This follows the success of recent pioneering drone delivery trials that took place at the Park in August 2022, overseen by Oxfordshire County Council. This was part of the HARMONY project which also sought the development of highly sustainable mobility systems – helping to reduce carbon emissions from transport across the Park and further afield.

This aspiration for sustainable connectivity aligns with Milton Park’s 2040 Vision, a blueprint for guiding the Park towards innovation district status, positioning itself as one of the most supportive and flexible locations for science and technology companies to establish and grow.

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About Milton Park Milton Park is a dynamic science, technology and business community in Oxfordshire and one of the largest in Europe. It is a collaborative working environment and a welcoming community that fuels innovation and sustainable growth for more than 250 companies and 9,000 people. With three million sq ft (278,709 sq m) of offices, laboratories and warehouses and 25+ amenities, Milton Park is in 214 acres of ownership, of which 43 acres is open and landscaped space with water shrubs, grass and trees. Its primary responsibility is to its customers with a duty to create a home for dynamic companies, small or large, thanks to an inspiring landscape, unrivalled connectivity and welcome humanity. It facilitates life-changing discoveries and conversations between companies, local and national government, research, academia, education, local residents and all relevant stakeholders. By managing the buildings and infrastructure in sustainable ways, the environment is enhanced, and flexibility is given for each company to realise its full potential. Milton Park provides a place where collaboration and the fusion of ideas can flourish and talent can thrive. Social and cultural life are integral to Milton Park. As a member of the community, people can enjoy its many amenities and events. About MEPC MEPC provides long term stewardship and creates transformational places with the future in mind. Its expertise lies in urban regeneration and facilitating the growth of science, business, and technology companies on its estates – giving rise to exceptional places that grow and evolve over time. Its track record is second to none. Across MEPC’s UK park and urban portfolio, MEPC provides workspace for more than 350 organisations and 15,000 people over four million sq ft. First Bus First Bus is one of the UK’s largest bus operators. Making journeys easier for our customers, we were the first national bus operator to accept contactless card payments across all of our services and our First Bus App is voted ‘best in class’ amongst UK bus operators. Our most recent investments are in new, state-of-the-art buses across our key networks. We work proactively with our local authority partners, making a positive impact on air quality, tackling congestion and improving customer experience. We are focused on First Bus becoming a leader in the transition to a low-carbon future and are committed to operating a zero-emission bus fleet by 2035; we have pledged not to purchase any new diesel buses after December 2022. We also operate the Aircoach network in Ireland. First Bus is a division of FirstGroup. Oxfordshire County Council Oxfordshire County Council is the local authority for Oxfordshire and are responsible for transport planning and policy, roads, schools, social services, the fire service, libraries, the museums services, trading standards, land use and waste management. OCC are an enabler, advisor and partner in several externally-funded connected and automated vehicle (CAV) projects having been the first local authority to name CAVs in our transport and planning policies in LTP4. As the highways authority responsible for roads, any organisations undertaking CAV trials need to engage with us, and we have streamlined this process to reduce uncertainty and assure safety. Connected and automated vehicles (CAV) trials | Oxfordshire County Council Fusion Processing Fusion Processing was founded in 2012 to design and build advanced systems for the automation of vehicles, and technology to improve vehicle safety. World leaders in automated driving systems, situational awareness and control systems technology, Fusion Processing’s products have clocked up over 2 million kilometres of service. Innovations include CAVstar® a full level 4 capable automated drive system, and CycleEyeCMS, a mirror replacement system for buses and trucks, designed and developed in house at their Bristol, UK headquarters. With numerous vehicles taking part in technology trials and commercial operations today, Fusion is driving road safety and enabling a new generation of autonomous vehicle systems that are set to transform the automotive industry. Zipabout Zipabout transforms the journey experience, empowering passengers on any transport mode to travel with confidence thanks to the pioneering use of personalised information services. Our technology creates a unique direct relationship between transport provider and passenger, enabling the delivery of real-time information tailored to individual passenger needs, as well as incentives and rewards to encourage sustainable behavioural change. We partner with government to tackle today’s transport challenges (safety, accessibility, sustainability, demand) and provide insight into transport system demand and the ways in which people use it. For more information, visit Centre for Transport & Society, UWE Bristol CTS is an interdisciplinary centre of excellence in academic research on mobility, travel behaviour, transport policy analysis and technological change in the transport sector. CTS’s overarching objective is to improve and promote understanding of the interlinkages between lifestyles and personal travel in the context of social, political and technological change. Our work is relevant to all modes of transport including walking. Whilst in the early years of the Centre our work focussed mainly on personal mobility, we also have growing niches of expertise in respect of freight mobility. CTS has a strong track record working in partnership with industry and the public sector, including several collaborative projects on the theme of autonomous road transport.

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