The UK’s first ever fully electric, autonomous bus service will be launching to the public at Milton Park, a leading science, technology and business community in Oxfordshire.
This follows the project’s successful demonstration day on Monday, 23 January, at the Park’s flexible workspace, the Bee House, attended by local leaders, occupiers, Buses Minister Richard Holden MP and the project’s consortium partners.
With cutting-edge technology, the Mi-Link project features a 16-seat, single-decker minibus which 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.
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 brought this ambitious five-year project into fruition.
The innovative bus service offers passengers free and green mode of travel from the Park’s flexible workspace, the Bee House, to its Milton Feast street food market area in a circular operation. A qualified safety driver is on board at all times, able to take control of the vehicle if required. The bus is also fully accessible for wheelchair and pram users.
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 between 7.00am to 6.30pm from Monday to Saturday, running as often as every 15 minutes.
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, which 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.
The Mi-Link project, which also includes a fleet of free electric hire bikes – available since 2020 – is intended to reduce the volume of car trips that occur entirely within Milton Park by an estimated 50%.
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.
Veronica Reynolds, Sustainability and Community Manager at Milton Park, said: “We’re thrilled that Milton Park was selected as the host location for the Mi-Link trials, maintaining the UK’s global position at the forefront of innovation.
“The delivery of this autonomous and fully electric public transport service aligns with Milton Park’s ongoing commitment to sustainable local transport initiatives.
“We’re fully supportive of this innovative project seeking to reduce single occupancy car use across Oxfordshire and beyond and are proud of the key role the Park is playing. We look forward to the full results of these trials as we step closer towards the exciting future of sustainable travel in the UK.”
Philip Campbell, Commercial Director at MEPC Milton Park, said: “The Mi-Link trials represent a landmark step in the future of green autonomous travel. Given the array of innovative companies based at the Park, from pioneers in battery technology to green energy, it’s fitting that the next generation of passenger transport is taking shape here.
“While the trials are of national significance, they are also an important step in encouraging people across Milton Park, Didcot and South Oxfordshire to travel in a more sustainable way – a key part of the Park’s 2040 Vision.
“We look forward to collaborating further with the other partners to ensure these exciting trials become a blueprint for the future of sustainable public transport and connectivity.”
Janette Bell, Managing Director at First Bus, said: “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 be able to offer an even greener and quieter way to travel via this new pioneering service.
“As one of the leading innovation communities for sustainable travel, Milton Park is the ideal location to host the Mi-Link project. We’re really looking forward to receiving feedback on the new service from the Park’s occupiers and wider local community.”