A new project plans to launch autonomous electric shuttles in Belfast’s harbour quarter in 2025
Self-driving vehicle software developer Oxa and electric commercial vehicle and passenger transport solutions specialist eVersum have cemented a new collaboration to facilitate the roll-out of autonomous vehicle technology.
The companies are combining their respective expertise to deliver self-driving shuttles each capable of carrying up to 40 passengers around the Belfast Harbour Estate’s ‘Innovation District’ as well as tourist attractions such as the Titanic Belfast exhibition. Named the Harlander Project, the scheme is said to be a vital component in the area’s sustainable transport plan, with current visitor numbers of over 3.6 million people a year predicted to rise to more than 5.6 million by 2035.
The first Belfast Harbour project shuttles are planned to enter passenger service in 2025. Oxa is also involved in projects including a collaboration with US-based micro-transit provider Beep which is developing shuttle services across seven US states with 26 customers. CEO Gavin Jackson explained: “With eVersum, we can deploy passenger-carrying autonomous shuttle fleets almost anywhere and these flexible forms of transport will become widespread as a way of moving people and goods in a safer, more efficient and faster way.
“The broader roll-out of self-driving vehicles is starting and shuttling can lead the way as the fastest evolving commercial arena for Oxa self-driving technology to make its mark internationally.”
“We are thrilled to announce our participation in the Harlander Project, a ground-breaking initiative backed by the UK government,” added Ben Jardine, Chief Product Officer and CEO at eVersum UK. “The project strengthens the recent partnership announced with Oxa and it will propel eVersum’s growth. With Harlander, and with Oxa, we are laying the foundations for commercialising autonomous driving passenger transport across the UK and far beyond.”
The shuttles will be driven by Oxa Driver, a suite of high-performance software components which the firm says can be integrated into any vehicle to enable safe and efficient self-driving. The system is designed to be modular and customisable, and can be retrofitted as a complete solution or integrated into co-developed autonomy solutions in full or at a component level.
The system will be fitted to the eVersum eShuttle, a vehicle its manufacturers say was developed to embrace the modern day mobility shift of inner-city and last-mile public transport. The mid-sized low floor vehicles will have a human safety operator on board and be capable of carrying up to 20 seated passengers plus a further 20 standees.
The project’s £11 million budget is part-funded by Innovate UK and the Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV). It will initially see two autonomous shuttles running through Belfast’s Innovation District and major tourist attractions as part of Belfast Harbour’s strategic plans and investment.
The roll-out phase wil involve a period of closed operation during the first quarter of 2025, before the service opens up for passengers. Oxa and eVersum’s expectation is that the Belfast project will be a blueprint for new public transport networks across the UK and internationally.
Innovate UK Executive Director for Net Zero Mike Biddle, said: “The UK connected and automated mobility (CAM) industry is maturing to become of crucial importance to the UK, and promises safer, cleaner and more efficient transport systems benefiting everyone. We welcome new commercial partnerships that strengthen the ecosystem and will continue to support all UK partners with their strategic ambitions.”
Mike Dawson, People and Digital Transformation Director at Belfast Harbour, added: “Belfast Harbour has a long track record of delivering and supporting innovation, so we are delighted to be working with Oxa and eVersum to deliver the UK’s first operationally ready and commercially viable automated shuttle service on publicly accessible roads within the Harbour Estate. This partnership supports our Smart Port ambitions and shows our commitment to the development of Belfast’s Innovation District.”