Self-driving vehicle software developer Ova and electric commercial vehicles and passenger transport solutions firm eVersum have announced their first joint roll-out of autonomous vehicle technology.
The companies are aiming to deliver self-driving shuttles each capable of carrying up to 40 passengers around the Innovation District in Northern Ireland’s Belfast Harbour Estate, as well as tourist attractions such as Titanic Belfast exhibition. This will be part of The Harlander Project which intends to establish the UK’s first operationally ready and commercially viable deployment of an automated shuttle service operating without an on-board supervisor on mixed-use public roads.
The Harlander project has a total budget of £11m which is part-funded by Innovate UK and the Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and is regarded a vital component in the area’s sustainable transport plan as current visitor numbers of over 3.6 million people a year are predicted to rise to more than 5.6 million by 2035.
Dedicated to solving transport challenges in the Belfast area, this deployment will initially see two autonomous shared passenger shuttles running between local transport links, through Belfast’s Innovation District and major tourist attractions including the revamped Titanic Belfast. The first Belfast Harbour project shuttles are due to enter passenger service in 2025.
In October 2023, Oxa and eVersum announced that they would work together to revolutionise the transportation sector, designing, developing and producing shared autonomous passenger vehicles that will be offered to public transport operators in Europe and the US.
The first fruit has been the launch of eShuttle, an autonomous city car based on eVersum’s autonomous-ready electric-base vehicles featuring Oxa Driver, Oxa’s autonomy software, along with integrated sensors and computing technology which is designed to be integrated into any vehicle to enable safe and efficient self-driving.
The eVersum eShuttle is a developed to embrace the modern day mobility shift of inner-city and last-mile public transportation. The vehicle is a mid-sized, low-floor accessible shuttle bus which is low noise and designed from the ground up utilising the latest Zero Emission Technology.
Each shuttle in the Belfast deployment, using Oxa Driver, will have a human safety operator on board and be capable of carrying up to 20 people seated and 40 in total including standing room. The roll-out phase involves 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 that connect people and places more dynamically – all based on self-driving systems that are safer, more efficient and flexible than what currently exists.
“We are thrilled to announce our participation in the Harlander Project, a groundbreaking initiative backed by the UK government,” said Ben Jardine, chief product officer and CEO 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.”
Oxa CEO Gavin Jackson added: “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.”
Mike Dawson, people and digital transformation director at Belfast Harbour, said: “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.”