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Scotland Announces First Driverless Buses For 2021

The Scotland federal government's Department for Business announced Friday, its plans to facilitate a self-driving public transit system of buses in Edinburgh by 2021.

While automated car companies like Waymo and JingChi duke it out in the U.S. over who'll field the first fully-functioning fleet of driverless vehicles, Scotland has already jumped ahead in the robotic auto sweepstakes.

Scottish taxpayers will be on the hook for nearly $5.6 million of the project, which will cost nearly $7.7 million. Additional funding will reportedly come from such businesses as Stagecoach, Transport Scotland, and bus-building company Alexander Dennis.

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Once completed, five single-decker driverless buses designed for a full load of 42 passengers will cross the Forth Bridge that connects Edinburgh Park with the Fife district. Passengers won't need to wait more than 20 minutes to grab a ride on the automated service, slated to travel the 14-mile circuit. Despite the price tag, it's estimated that 10,000 will use the new service weekly in Edinburgh, with ridership predicted to be about half a million annually.

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These self-driving vehicles will navigate via sensors built into the road that will plot the direction of the buses, stop locations, and the presence of obstacles such as pedestrians and other drivers. The sensors feed that information to an onboard control system that responds accordingly to the data provided.

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However, it's that type of system which has critics clamoring that the impending driverless revolution will negatively impact their human counterparts who make a living behind the wheel. One report declared that up to 1.2 million drivers could be unemployed in the U.K. due to the move towards automation. The Scottish government claims that won't happen in the case of the forthcoming bus system since safety regulations call for at least one transit employee to be on each vehicle in service.

Administrators in London will very likely be monitoring the progress in Edinburgh as the city has similar aspirations for a driverless bus system. One plan in the works includes a privately-contracted pilot project in the Greenwich district, where 15 automated Land Rover Discovery vehicles will provide passengers with faster access to the North Greenwich terminal of London's subway system.

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