Innovative plan to launch 'driverless bus' in Belfast Harbour

Computer-generated image of the type of autonomous shuttle bus which might soon be in use in Belfast Harbour
Computer-generated image of the type of autonomous shuttle bus which might soon be in use in Belfast Harbour

AN INNOVATIVE scheme to introduce a driverless bus into Belfast Harbour could be revealed within weeks.

Under the plan, passengers would be able travel from Translink’s Sydenham Halt all the way down Queen's Road to the Catalyst building in vehicle without a driver.

Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation, has been working with the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) to invest £41.5 million in innovation projects.

A Belfast bid, led by Belfast Harbour and supported by a number of partners including BT, is among a number of pilot schemes across the UK bidding for a grant of between £200,000 and £2 million to progress the idea.

Paul Murnaghan, regional director of BT Enterprise in Northern Ireland, confirmed the move in a sponsor's address to the NI Chamber of Commerce president’s banquet in ICC Belfast, which was themed ‘Big Ideas’.

He told 800 guests: "Big ideas rarely present themselves like that in the beginning. Small ideas are really important too. The ‘what ifs?’, the ‘how could we’s?’ and the ‘why don’t we’s?’ are often the genesis of something much bigger. Big ideas can come from anywhere.

"I remember sitting beside Joe O’Neill from Belfast Harbour at an awards dinner in Dublin four years ago for the BT Young Scientist and Technology Exhibition, a wonderful all-island event aimed at fostering the STEM agenda and encouraging young people to develop an interest and skills in STEM subjects, building the talent of the next generation.

"Chatting over dinner with Joe, the germination of an idea was sparked. He shared his ambition for the harbour to become the world’s best regional port and to create an iconic waterfront district for Belfast which would be an attractive place to live, work, visit and invest.

"I shared with him BT’s Purpose of Connecting for good. And, fast forward four years, together we are offering outcomes-focused business services that lead the way in secure, advanced connectivity utilising 5G public and private networks.

"And we’re delivering over the top use cases for tourism, smart city and ports, environmental, and transport and logistics customer, with none more exciting than this joint bid into Innovate UK for an autonomous vehicle trial."

It is understood Innovate UK will confirm details of the successful bidders within the coming weeks.

  • This article was amended on November 29 2022