The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

Steven Russell 'The Rise of the Autonomous Bus: A Look into the Future of Transit'

John Carter
April 20, 2023
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Steven Russell 'The Rise of the Autonomous Bus: A Look into the Future of Transit'

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Episode shownotes

In this episode I speak with Steven Russell, a service designer and now Innovation Manager at Stagecoach bus in the UK. We chat about autonomous buses - a project that Steven has been working on for quite some time. Now, no longer in the realms of movies like Back to the Future 2, it’s not too far away. How far I hear you ask? Well at some point this year, Edinburgh will hopefully become one of the first cities in the world to start rolling the service out in a R and D capacity.

We chat about all the ins and outs about the process, and discuss what the service might look like, potential service failures and other industry dependencies like insurance (who is responsible in the case of accidents) and also how to prepare society for visual of seeing a bus with people driving down the road, with no human driver at the wheel.

Note: Since recording the launch date for the autonomous bus service has been announced. It will open to the public on Monday, the 15th of May.

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Episode Transcript

This transcript was created using the awesome, Descript. It may contain minor errors.
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[00:00:00] Steven Russell: What are research set out to understand? What do we need to do to build trust in autonomous vehicle? What does the customer experience need to feel like? Where is the value in it for the customer? And what we realized quite early on is that the public aren't quite ready and the technology's quite not ready.

[00:00:19] Gerry Scullion: Hello and welcome to Bringing Design Closer, and this is H C D. Our goal is of conversations that inspire and not move the dial forward for organizations to become more human-centered in their approach to solving complex business and societal problems. My name is Jerry Scullion. I'm an educator. I'm a podcaster, and I'm the host of This Is Hate City, based in the wonderful city of Dublin, Ireland.

[00:00:38] Gerry Scullion: Now, in this episode, I speak with Stephen Russell, a service designer and now innovation manager at Stage Coach Bus in the uk. Now we chat about autonomous buses, a project that Stephen has been working on for quite some time now, and now no longer in the realms of movies like Back to the Future too. One of my favorites, it's not too far away, folks.

[00:00:56] Gerry Scullion: How far away I can hear you ask? Well, at some point this. [00:01:00] Edinburgh will hopefully become one of the first cities in the world to start rolling out the service in an r and d capacity. Now we chat about all the ins and outs about the process, and Stephen went through in the creation of the service and discussed what the service might look like, maybe some potential service failures and other industry dependencies like insurance.

[00:01:19] Gerry Scullion: It's a quandary there that we've all probably discussed at some point who is responsible in the case of accident. And also how to prepare society for the visual of seeing a bus with people driving down the road with no human driver at the wheel. It's a really good episode. Now, if you like, what we're doing at this is H C D, you can please help us out by doing a few things.

[00:01:38] Gerry Scullion: First of all, did you know that only 8% of our listeners have subscribed in their podcast app to the podcast? You can help us out by subscribing to this podcast wherever you're listening, or you can leave a review wherever you're listening to the podcast. It only takes a couple of minutes. It really helps the findability of the podcast, and you're only gonna say next.

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[00:02:13] Gerry Scullion: Goodness. For over 250 episodes. I know. It's amazing. Let's jump straight into it. I am delighted to have you here. Um, I've been checking you out on LinkedIn for, for quite a while and we, we managed to reach out a couple of months ago or a couple of weeks ago maybe. Um, and you know, we're gonna be chatting a little bit more around your role at the moment in, um, stagecoach Bus, which is, uh, in Scotland.

[00:02:40] Gerry Scullion: So maybe we'll start off though, um, tell us a little bit about yourself and how, how do you describe what you do if you're, I know you were recently at a wedding, and I'm sure people talk to you and they, they might have asked that question, which I hate, by the way. What do you do? How would you respond to that question?

[00:02:57] Steven Russell: Thanks. Yeah. And just, just for having us on, [00:03:00] um, I was over, I was over in Ireland for a wedding, and so I saw part of, part of your, part of the world. It was lovely. Yeah. Um, yeah, so my name's Steve. I work with Stage Coach Bus and I'm an innovation manager and my, my main role now is looking at autonomous pluses and how, how'd you design that service?

[00:03:20] Steven Russell: How'd you make that work for, for our passengers?

[00:03:23] Gerry Scullion: Right. That's gonna be a big conversation. Okay. Cause it's not something that you're like, you get your Lego bricks out and you just start saying, okay, well we'll get rid of the driver and strip away that the whole ecosystem is gonna change. Like, you know, but maybe before we get into that, Tell us, you know, I know you studied, um, service design in Glasgow, is that right?

[00:03:47] Gerry Scullion: Yeah,

[00:03:47] Steven Russell: yeah. Um, I start, I studied Master in Service Design and innovation at the Glasgow School of Art. Um, it was actually quite lucky. I, I was, uh, I suppose I was, I was working full-time in Tesco after my honors honors [00:04:00] degree. Uh, yeah, I'd been trying to work on a side project and, uh, some government funding became available to go and study a free masters in service design.

[00:04:08] Steven Russell: That sounds to product design. So yeah, jumped at the

[00:04:10] Gerry Scullion: chance. That's awesome. Like, so your background, when I look at it, you studied sports engineering, was it. Originally. Yeah.

[00:04:20] Steven Russell: Um, so I, I suppose in, in secondary school I wasn't quite sure what I wanted to do. Um, yeah. And I, well, I wanted to go and become a join and my mom sort of said, no, no, if you got the grades, you should to uni.

[00:04:33] Steven Russell: Um, and sort of pick some words that you like. So I liked PE and I, I like tech studies. So sports engineering sounded like a good, a good combination of the two. But then

[00:04:44] Gerry Scullion: you. Sorry, you continued on into product design then. I see. Yeah,

[00:04:49] Steven Russell: so, uh, sports engineering was sort of designing products for sports industry and there, and there was some classes that I just couldn't get my head around.

[00:04:56] Steven Russell: Um, anatomy and, uh, yeah, [00:05:00] yeah, biomechanics was a, was a bit much, very much for me. Um, and I ended up swapping over to product design and innovation. I, I realized that I, I quite liked the business elements of it as well. It wasn't just coming up with an idea, it was sort of how, how do you take. That to market.

[00:05:15] Steven Russell: Um, and then that transferred over to product design.

[00:05:18] Gerry Scullion: Awesome. It's, um, it's an interesting kind of back background that you've, you've accumulated cuz product design and then you're in service design. Um, for the last maybe 10 years I suppose. You've, you've co-design officer for Young Scott, and now you find yourself at Stage Coach Buss.

[00:05:35] Gerry Scullion: Well, what attracted you to this role? Like what's, what are the challenges, um, that you, you face as innovation manager for Stage Coach Buss?

[00:05:46] Steven Russell: What attracted me to the role was previously I was working for a consultancy, uh, and we were working on a similar project. Uh, the, the, the consultancy was an arm of a transport services group.

[00:05:59] Steven Russell: They, they [00:06:00] developed things like ticketing. They, they offered customer service in, in the background for, for the transport system. Um, and they had a project looking at when autonomous vehicles come to market, what kinda services are they gonna need? Um, so I was doing similar work for them. And we developed a proposal with, with Stagecoach, um, to, to look at designing full size autonomous bus.

[00:06:20] Steven Russell: Um, and that went into a government funding competition. Um, and one, but unfortunately the company that was working for at the time decided to cut their r and d arm. So I got made redundant from that role. Um, and there was sort of a hole in, in this project that had been. Um, so I, I got, um, employed by Stage coach to, to do, to do the work, which, which was, um, sort the service design aspect, the user research aspects, um, working quite closely with Napier University.

[00:06:50] Gerry Scullion: So how far along are you in the journey of this becoming a reality, um, of autonomous vehicles? Moving people from Glasgow to Edinburgh [00:07:00] or wherever it may be.

[00:07:02] Steven Russell: So where are you at? So in, in terms of getting one on the road that works. Yeah, we're very close and couple of months we would expect to be launching a, a public service that delivers enough value that the passengers would be expected to pay for tickets rather than just, just a demonstration.

[00:07:17] Steven Russell: Um, But in, in terms of it actually being a commercial success, which you see rolled out further, um, and we're still at very much r d face validating it. Um, what, what the technology is seeing that it can do it,

[00:07:30] Gerry Scullion: it can be, yeah. So what cities around the world have this, um, ability at the moment at autonomous vehicles?

[00:07:37] Gerry Scullion: So

[00:07:38] Steven Russell: we are arguably going to be the most ambitious autonomous plus project world worldwide. Um, we're the first ones doing it. Uh, Mixed traffic up to fix up to, up to 50 miles an hour. Um, and what's known as level four redundancy. Um, right, which is quite a complicated one to explain. Um, so [00:08:00] autonomous vehicles mo most cars that you see nowadays have some kind of autonomous functions, so lane keeping parking assist.

[00:08:10] Steven Russell: All, all these kind of things are certain levels of automation. Um, when you look at Teslas, they're level three in that as a, as a driver, you're still expected to have your. Paying attention to the road, ready to intervene, but the car is effectively driving itself. Yeah. Um, level four, which is what we are going for, is in theory, there shouldn't need to be a driver there if anything goes wrong.

[00:08:32] Steven Russell: Yeah. The system will have backups in place that, that it can steer, steer itself safely to to, to stop if anything is going.

[00:08:40] Gerry Scullion: In my research for this episode, I couldn't find anything. There was, there was people talking about it, but there, there didn't seem to be anywhere. So that's, it's, it's true. There, there is no city in the world really at the moment that has autonomous buses.

[00:08:53] Gerry Scullion: There's,

[00:08:54] Steven Russell: there, there has been like demonstrations. Yeah. Yeah. And, and this is gonna be the [00:09:00] first one that, that's, uh, sort of. So much to expect.

[00:09:03] Gerry Scullion: I think when I came home from Australia in 2018, I think there might have been, I think I saw on the news and I couldn't stop laughing. There was a big demonstration, and this is no disrespect to anyone on Ireland room, by the way.

[00:09:14] Gerry Scullion: Okay. There was a big demonstration of an autonomous bus moving from A to B in a straight line down the road. And I remember kinda going, well, we're miles away from that. If, if you, you've got the TV crews coming out and it's just the bus, it's like a remote control bus. So you're, you're saying that it's pretty close, like how, how far is that in terms of, you know, months or years?

[00:09:36] Gerry Scullion: Are we talking this year?

[00:09:38] Steven Russell: Yes. Yeah. Um, so we've, we've said that we're gonna launch this service in the springtime. Obviously with any innovation projects there's risks associated with that, and that's why we update on it just yet. Yeah. Um, but yeah, we're going through the final, uh, sort of testing approval process, um, and expect to launch in a couple months.

[00:09:55] Gerry Scullion: That's, that's gonna be super cool. So couple

[00:09:57] Steven Russell: schools, oh, sorry. In Jan, [00:10:00] January, just there, we actually had our first passengers on board. Um, so that this was a, a group, um, that came together early in the project and they'd been on, on the journey with us helping to critique some of the stuff that put together, taking part in the research.

[00:10:13] Steven Russell: Um, and, and they were our first passengers. So there was 23 people on board, um, experiencing it as if, as if it was, was in live service.

[00:10:24] Gerry Scullion: So here's some of the, the questions that come to my mind. How's it gonna change for a, a, a, a passenger on that? Do they have to wear a safety belt? Um, what's the, what's the differences between the two experiences?

[00:10:38] Gerry Scullion: Or, or are there any, Yeah. So

[00:10:41] Steven Russell: I suppose that this is what, what, what our research set out to understand, um, what, what do we need to do to build trust in autonomous vehicle? Um, what does the customer experience need to feel like? Um, where, where the value in it for the realized quite early on is that, The public aren't [00:11:00] quite ready and the technology's quite not ready.

[00:11:02] Steven Russell: Um, for an unstaffed bus, there's things that our drivers do onboard the bus, that's, that's not just the driving. Um, things like taking tickets, offering, uh, offering re reassurance information, things like that, keeping the service successful, helping with boarding bus stops are not uniform. Um, so yeah, helping important things like that.

[00:11:22] Steven Russell: Um, so what we've sort of said, Um, going forward, when you think about a full size autonomous bus, it would still have our member of staff on board. Ok. But that that member of staff wouldn't be driving the vehicle. They would be able to the cab and passengers. So we're gonna demonstrate that the. Taking tickets, reassuring passengers answering questions, helping with load and all that kinda stuff.

[00:11:47] Steven Russell: Um, which arguably should, should really, um, improve the customer experience. Um, they're, they're not up at the window fumbling with the, um, trying to get the bus going. That thing, um, there's much [00:12:00] more, more time to talk to the. The, the employee that's on board.

[00:12:04] Gerry Scullion: So that whole human experience, we've, we're starting to touch on it here a little bit more, around providing change, providing reassurance, you know, way finding in many ways of local knowledge, it all becomes part of it.

[00:12:17] Gerry Scullion: So it's kind of reassuring that that person. Is still in the saloon, as you'd say, walking around talking and building relationships and reassuring. What other aspects in your research did you see, um, were really important to be called out in the service? And how did you go about that? You mentioned trust there a second ago, but was there anything else you wanna build on?

[00:12:39] Gerry Scullion: So,

[00:12:40] Steven Russell: yeah, I mean the three core things that that came outta the research was trust, customer experience, and, and the value that it's actually gonna have. So with trust, it was really understanding the capabilities of the technology, understanding what's been. To make sure that it's safe. So one of the things that we're doing as part of the [00:13:00] project is, is making our safety case publicly facing.

[00:13:03] Steven Russell: So we'll sh we'll share all, all the information that we share the information. We will share a high level overview. Yeah. Yeah. Of all the testing that, that, that's sort of been done to reassure the public that, that we're not just putting this out there. It has been tested, its safe. Um, also having a, a big name operator like ourselves, Sage coach involved, safety's one of our, is our number one priority.

[00:13:28] Steven Russell: So, um, so that really helps, um, to, to have a, a family name involved. Um, in terms of customer experience, I mean, Autonomous vehicles in general is quite an abstract concept. When you, you talk to anybody, everyone's got a different opinion and it's mainly based on pop culture, whether it's the Batmobile, night Rider, Johnny Cab, any of these that sort of stick in their head, maybe the Terminator.

[00:13:52] Steven Russell: These are all that to mind when think about automation, robotics. Um, what we wanna try and do is, is, is [00:14:00] make it seem much more normal and that, and that's what we're doing. Keeping much of the wraparound service, uh, the way it's, you able to interact with it, with timetables on, on the usual stage website through your third party journeys, all, all these kinda ways.

[00:14:17] Steven Russell: Then board difference, you're.

[00:14:23] Gerry Scullion: Okay. There's a thing there that you mentioned there a few minutes ago, like that a lot of vehicles at the moment have some of these, uh, autonomous functions or features already built into the Lane Assist being one of them. Now I've got a car at the moment that when I'm driving it and got Lane assist on, um, that, you know, the way it works is it identifies the, the straight lines that are the side of the car and when you, when you move over one line, Can I pull you back in sort of stuff.

[00:14:53] Gerry Scullion: But what I tend to find is, Whenever there's roadworks going on and you have to kind of intentionally move over [00:15:00] those, or if there's a cyclist that is too far over the lane, I'm being pulled in and sometimes when the cyclist breaks their line and I swerve to avoid them, it pulls me back in and I have to have this adverse reaction.

[00:15:12] Gerry Scullion: I'm like, no, no, no car. I'm trying to save the passenger. So we're coming onto that topic where you knew most people will have this conversation. How. Does a bus make that decision about when there's roadworks and this is a normal piece? Well, what's the underlying technology and, and how is it being? How does it determine safety?

[00:15:36] Steven Russell: Okay, so the, I suppose if I start with how the system works. Yeah. And then so how it's programmed in that, that sort of situation. So it's sort of programmed to make cons, make decisions in a loop consistently. So it sort of asks where am I? What's around me? What should I do next? And it asks that constantly in a cycle.

[00:15:56] Steven Russell: So it uses certain gps as an internal map of its 3D [00:16:00] surrounds to say, right, I'm in this location. And it uses it sensors in a database of shapes to know what's around it, how they're moving, and then what should do next. It's obviously fleet management

[00:16:16] Steven Russell: steering.

[00:16:20] Steven Russell: Um, it's got a, what's known as an operational design domain. Programed into it. And that's the sort of area that can, it can operate. And it says if, if it's on this route, you can put it into autonomous mode and it'll drive itself fine. If there's something weird that is not built into the programming in that, then it'll bring itself to safe stop and it won't it.

[00:16:42] Steven Russell: So it's roadworks that have gonna be there for any length of time. You can potentially build that into the operational design domain and it'll take a detour. But if it's something that has just sprung. Then potentially it will just stop and, and wait for a human to make a, make a

[00:16:59] Gerry Scullion: decision. [00:17:00] So in terms of the edge cases there, where it just brings itself to a safe halt, is the person in the saloon then, uh, able to recommend the journey?

[00:17:09] Gerry Scullion: Or is there a case of like a little red flag comes up and a balloon pops up from the roof kind of going out of service? What, what's that experience like?

[00:17:17] Steven Russell: Yeah, so in, in the future, we see that as being part of the captain's. Okay. Where are they? Will they'll be able to return to the cab, take over the driving, and go and go around whatever the, the, the barrier is?

[00:17:31] Steven Russell: Whether it's a diversion that takes outside of that. Just something that's a bit confused about. Yeah. But for the time being to comply with the UK government's code of practice for testing these type of vehicles, we're gonna have a safety driver in the seat monitoring the technology. So if it up to something technology wasn't sure to deal safety, take control and, and steer around the, the roadwork basically around

[00:17:59] Gerry Scullion: the road.[00:18:00]

[00:18:00] Steven Russell: And that's obviously well. Sorry, go ahead. Yeah. Yeah. And that's while the, the technology's a prototype, um, while we're still learning to make sure that it's safe for, for all members of

[00:18:12] Gerry Scullion: public. Yeah. So what are the sort of things that you can leave? Um, Relatively low fidelity in this kind of sense, whereas because the risks are quite high when you're saying, okay, well we can't release, uh, a first draft in this and say, we'll iterate from that point on what are the deal breakers in terms of, um, determining when it's ready.

[00:18:39] Gerry Scullion: They're the, the bits that I'm really interested in. When you move from that sense of prototyping into, okay, now we're ready, it's functional. Who determines.

[00:18:48] Steven Russell: So we, we have like this, this safety case that I've, I've mentioned it covers a range of things. It's, has the technology been tested, has the vehicle itself been approved?

[00:18:58] Steven Russell: Are we taking all the [00:19:00] operational training type precautions that we should be to put into, into service? Um, and that's really what, what, um, we need to get right before it's signed off to, to have passengers on board. Um, so far we've, we've got it. To, to a stage where we can be testing out on the route. And we've been doing that since April last year.

[00:19:21] Steven Russell: Uh, and we're just going through the fighting testing now. Um, at, at that stage, it'll be approved by senior, senior level executives from the commercial partners, and then it's audited by third party. Group of safety ex experts, uh, to make sure our processes are all in place. Uh, and then we can, then we can register the service open to passenger.

[00:19:42] Steven Russell: Um, and that, that auditing of the safety case, that, that was encouraged by, um, the government fund, which center connected autonomous vehicle.

[00:19:54] Gerry Scullion: Right. So there's, there's a whole range of stakeholders are involved in this, in this project. [00:20:00] Um, in terms of. The, the, the scalability of what we're looking at here at the moment, what does that look like?

[00:20:08] Gerry Scullion: Is it just gonna be localized to Scotland or, cuz I know Stagecoach Bos bus, they work across the uk, is that correct?

[00:20:16] Steven Russell: Yeah, yeah. So we're UK's largest bus operator, uh, about 8,000 vehicles, 5,000 staff, and we do about 3 million journeys every week. Wow.

[00:20:28] Gerry Scullion: Okay. So it's, it's a big deal. So in terms of the, um, the rolling this out across all over the uk, is that something that's, uh, planned for this year?

[00:20:41] Steven Russell: No. No, not at all. Um, no. The. This is very much a, a, a first sort of research and development type project. Okay. Um, the reason that there's a lot of stakeholders involved is that, um, it's, it's part government funded to, to re de-risk the r d for everybody that's involved. Um, right. [00:21:00] So we've got the, the tech supplier, the, the vehicle builders.

[00:21:04] Steven Russell: Um, we've got sort of cyber simulation robotics experts, um, from BRI University. Crystal Robotics Lab, even societal research support from, from NAP and the Roads Authority, transport Scotland, all involved to, to try and put this, this technology onto the road and, and prove that it works. If the, if the project wasn't sort of collaborative thing, then I suppose.

[00:21:30] Steven Russell: The, the operator stagecoach would've had to fund it all themselves, and I'm, I'm not sure we would've done that in, in that sort of guys. Um, yeah. So that the seasons all come together to do it collaboratively

[00:21:39] Gerry Scullion: instead. So the, the staging or the, this kinda rollout of the prototype phase. Is effectively what, what we're talking about that could happen this year.

[00:21:49] Gerry Scullion: Um, yeah. Yeah. So then the, the, the full rollout after that, how many years or what does that look like in terms of into the future? I just want to know when I can go and get [00:22:00] from Glasgow to London. Well, if you, if

[00:22:03] Steven Russell: you come up to Fife and would like to travel into Edinburgh Park Station and by autonomous bus in the springtime, you can come and have a

[00:22:10] Gerry Scullion: shot quite.

[00:22:14] Steven Russell: There are seat, there are seat belts on, on the buses,

[00:22:18] Gerry Scullion: but I would, I would come wearing a, a shell suit from the nineties and I'd be all puffed up. So, uh, I'd be like, go on, let's go.

[00:22:25] Steven Russell: We're, we're, we're always, uh, we're always looking for VIPs and famous species to come and get the photo taken on it. So that's,

[00:22:31] Gerry Scullion: that's not me.

[00:22:31] Gerry Scullion: You know, all the VIPs and design and Scotland, Sarah Drum and there's, we've already speaking about Sarah, like, you know, but,

[00:22:39] Steven Russell: um, So, sorry, go ahead. The projects, the project's, very much research and development. And once it's on the roads, it'll be monitoring the, the KPIs, uh, monitoring, um, the benefits of the technology to make sure it is, it is driving safer, it is driving smoother and more fuel efficient.

[00:22:56] Steven Russell: The customers are having a better experience. All all these things that we can use to, [00:23:00] for future, uh, for future

[00:23:02] Gerry Scullion: role. So what, what impact, um, would other industries have on this? Because I remember years ago when I was reading into this whole space, the, the autonomous vehicle space is moving very, very quickly, but the likes of the more rigid structures, say insurance, um, find it a little bit more difficult, but they did anyway, a little bit more difficult to ensure these vehicles who.

[00:23:29] Gerry Scullion: Fault. Who's responsible, who's accountable for the safety? Um, where are those industries at, at the moment? Are, are they capable?

[00:23:39] Steven Russell: Yeah. So there, there's been a few of these style government funded competitions, um, that have led up to. Our project, and recently more funding has been announced. Um, and there's been insurers, aa, for example, that have been involved in those discussions looking at do autonomous, autonomous vehicle.

[00:23:57] Steven Russell: Um, what's really interesting, the [00:24:00] law recently come out with report suggesting recommendations to, I'm guessing, to parliament, to, to mm-hmm. How these laws should be framed in the future. Uh, and it, it does suggest that, um, it's. It's not the operator that's liable, it's the the system, the the system provider that would then the software Yeah.

[00:24:19] Steven Russell: That, that would need to be liable in the event of an accident. When, when that's engaged, of course.

[00:24:24] Gerry Scullion: So in

[00:24:27] Steven Russell: those recommendations will take time to parliament. Okay. Future laws.

[00:24:33] Gerry Scullion: So in a sense, the brain, the software, the, the intelligence, that's a third party, is that correct? Then that provides the intelligence for the vehicle.

[00:24:42] Steven Russell: Yeah, so, so that will be one of the, one of the partners, the one of the

[00:24:46] Gerry Scullion: vendors, yeah. So they're the people that get scrutinized and have to go through the, the kind of, The vendor, um, kind of process of making sure that you can get insured against that brain if you want, so to [00:25:00] speak. I'm trying to bring it down into my own language here, Steven.

[00:25:03] Gerry Scullion: Yeah, so,

[00:25:03] Steven Russell: so currently for, for the length of our trial, um, self-insure, so we, we are able to cover, cover our vehicles under that and our existing policy. Sure. Um, but. The way that the legal framework works this now is that you need to have a human monitoring the system a hundred percent of the time. Who is there for the responsible person?

[00:25:26] Steven Russell: Um, so our safety drivers who are monitoring it with their hands off the wheel, they, they would be legal if anything went wrong. But in the, you can take the safety driver out the cab, that'll be when the law changes to, to make the software.

[00:25:41] Gerry Scullion: So what kinda changes do you see happening across the broad?

[00:25:46] Gerry Scullion: Customer service, uh, ecosystem or just generated the service ecosystem. You mentioned there about ticketing, accessibility, all of these really, really important pieces. Um, how is this gonna disrupt? [00:26:00] That ecosystem and how are you designing for those changes? So,

[00:26:05] Steven Russell: as I sort of said, I, I think this, in this use case where it's a full size autonomous automation doesn't make too much of a difference.

[00:26:15] Steven Russell: Cause you're still going through your customer journey very much the same way. You're still so check checking. If your bus is available on, on a, on a timetable, on stage, call, chat, that kinda thing, you're still turning up at a, at the infrastructure, the bus stop or. Yeah, the station, whatever. Um, the difference is your customer experience when you're on the vehicle.

[00:26:35] Steven Russell: You've got somebody that's ae bit more, um, able, able to be a little bit more hands on, able to speed up boarding to offer a little bit more assistance than they could. Um, that kinda thing. But there is, there is quite a lot going on within the transport space that. That is, it's quite interesting. You get things like, uh, electrification.

[00:26:55] Steven Russell: Um, there's a big push for, to electrify the feet, I think stage of about [00:27:00] 300 electric buses now. Ok. Um, we've recently announced Inverness was the first fully electric city. Um, and there's other things like we've been piloting on, on, on demand services where eh one. Almost acts like an Uber and it'll, it'll go around and pick up people in sort of rural communities using an app.

[00:27:20] Steven Russell: Cool. All of these should, should, in theory, make, make transport systems better in

[00:27:26] Gerry Scullion: different ways. Yeah. Can I ask you a question that you, you might kind of go, oh, Jerry, I'm not too sure about this. Um, Let's talk about service failures. Okay. Cuz that's the stuff that really excites me. Okay. Where do you think the potential service failures might lie the fleet was to go fully autonomous?

[00:27:45] Gerry Scullion: That's a good question. Thank you.

[00:27:51] Steven Russell: Um, it would, it would put a substantial risk in that the company would be reliant on one vendor. [00:28:00] Hmm. And you would be relying on, I suppose, software updates and if you're rolling out a, a new software to straight across the fleet. Yeah. Yeah. I

[00:28:13] Gerry Scullion: think there would be, I could imagine. Interesting. The glitches and the bugs, like, like a normal software rollout.

[00:28:21] Gerry Scullion: Yeah. I, I think, I think

[00:28:23] Steven Russell: that would be quite an interesting one. Um, But I suppose as, as a company, we would be trying to take steps to, to not put all of our eggs in one basket or

[00:28:33] Gerry Scullion: Absolutely. How that,

[00:28:35] Steven Russell: that process

[00:28:36] Gerry Scullion: works in terms of the interfacing then with the local city councils. Um, How close do you have to work with those people to maintain the data repository that the, the buses work from on a day-to-day basis or a minute by minute basis?

[00:28:50] Gerry Scullion: Like if there's a car crash and there's a five lane kind of pile up, you can deviate that. How, what, what, what kind of services do you have to rely on for [00:29:00] the effectiveness of the service to maintain, to avoid service?

[00:29:04] Steven Russell: In, in those cases, we, uh, the bus timetables and all, all that are put up to a central hub and third party journey.

[00:29:12] Steven Russell: Planners and things can, can scrape all that and to keep, to keep the service public informed of if services are running or not. Similarly, we've got a stage app that you can live, track your journeys on. Um, we've. Control system that gets updates from, uh, tra transport, traffic Scotland on any, any sort of major road closure closures, weather warnings, things like that.

[00:29:34] Steven Russell: And then they can push out to the, the drivers and the buses, um, to let them know of any, any sort of diversions or, um, delays that they might expect and they can ship back to the passengers scene. Yeah, we're gonna be, yeah. Gonna be minutes.

[00:29:49] Gerry Scullion: Yeah, absolutely. It's, it's a whole, um, Kinda revamp of the ecosystem cuz nothing is really, I, I know you might say it's not a whole revamp because sta standard [00:30:00] parts are standard, like people still need to get on the bus and off the bus.

[00:30:03] Gerry Scullion: But for, for many people it would be a kind of a huge. Leap forward to see a bus driving down a road and kind of going, that bus is driving by itself. Um, how, how do you feel, um, society can really prepare itself for that? Because I was speaking to so many recently and we were talking about whenever mobile phones came out, and then people had the Bluetooth headset and they'd be walking down the road and I used to stop and go, sorry, sorry, what did you say?

[00:30:34] Gerry Scullion: And they'd be, They just keep walking. Walking. And I'm like, how rude. And then I'd see it a few days later, someone else, and I'm like, oh no, they've got something in their ear. What is that thing? Oh, they're having a phone call. Oh, you look like an idiot. Um, and that was the whole kind of poi piece of getting, getting prepared and, and things were changing.

[00:30:52] Gerry Scullion: What steps do you think we need to do to prepare people for that level of change? Being able to see a car or a bus going down [00:31:00] the road, because I think that'll really improve the accessibility and the whole kind of interest of getting on the

[00:31:04] Steven Russell: bus. Yeah, and I've been around a few different trials now, and I think what's really interesting is when you watch people maybe signed up or have crossed a path of the autonomous service in there, they see.

[00:31:17] Steven Russell: They're sitting, they're sort of standing nervous, apprehensive, almost like you're about to go on a rollercoaster. And it's like, oh, this gonna be exciting.

[00:31:24] Gerry Scullion: And then they

[00:31:25] Steven Russell: get on and two minutes later the novelty is completely worn off because the vehicles are designed to be safe. They're not driving like you're taking off road having great, they're, they're designed to be safe.

[00:31:37] Steven Russell: Yeah. And so that exposure, and then they will disseminate that to their friends, saying, oh, I was on it. How was it? Oh yeah. Quite poor. Yeah. So I, I think that, I think that is what's, what's gonna normalize that having services available to the members of public. They can try it, but maybe not in some of the guise that we've already seen.

[00:31:57] Steven Russell: So, um, for example, you [00:32:00] get small pod vehicles that around pedestrianized environments and, and the struggle is for some people it's like, what, what, what value is that for me? It's, it's looking at use cases where the people that are gonna get on board are actually getting valued is something that you can imagine using day-to-day going mm-hmm.

[00:32:17] Steven Russell: Yes. That, that actually fulfills a need in my life or somebody, or somebody

[00:32:21] that

[00:32:21] Gerry Scullion: I know. Life. So in terms of um, improving the service, is there a reason, there're to say that bosses in theory could run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Is that something that you would see being a lot? Easy to execute. I

[00:32:39] Steven Russell: mean, I mean, some buses already do do that.

[00:32:41] Steven Russell: It's, it's just where, where there is commercial demand. Mm-hmm. And I, I suppose in the case of autonomous vehicles, it's really trying to understand. The cost benefit trade off and, and yeah, what that means for a commercial model, um, as I say, with our full size autonomous plus, we're still [00:33:00] expecting there to be a member of staff on board.

[00:33:01] Steven Russell: So you don't get that operational saving that that is. A lot of people assume is this sort of sales pitch. Like when you went into this project, many people say what does it mean for drive of jobs? And what we're seeing is there's still gonna be a human on the bus. So it means the role changes a little bit, but we're not putting anybody over job

[00:33:20] Gerry Scullion: actually big, I'm sure across stage plus, you know, for might even.

[00:33:25] Gerry Scullion: People listening who are bus drivers and stage coach buss. And it's reassuring for them to hear that, that their role might evolve to become more human, which is something on this podcast we're always talking about. Like we never wanna make people redundant using, you know, technology like this. Um, Especially design.

[00:33:42] Gerry Scullion: We wanna make sure that we're improving the human experience. And if we can do that, then that's, that's a fantastic thing. Like, you know. Yeah. There, there

[00:33:48] Steven Russell: have, there have been, um, other projects recently that, that we've, um, announced funding for, um, that are looking at different use cases. They're, they're exploring places where full size.

[00:33:59] Steven Russell: Might not have been [00:34:00] viable. So it's things like linking up, linking up a business park with a route or a small shuttle in the site center that doesn't actually go very far. And in these scenarios, we could maybe imagine putting on a sort of smaller vehicle that might have been unstaffed, but that's what next.

[00:34:17] Steven Russell: And again, these, these aren't scenarios where we're replacing a full size bus that had a member of staff on board with a non-staff vehicle. It's we're, we're trying to provide a service. A different business model.

[00:34:31] Gerry Scullion: Do you see buses, um, versus say trams? I know like Dublin at the moment, we've got the Lewis system, which.

[00:34:40] Gerry Scullion: Still hasn't really evolved in the last 15 or 16 years. It's still two, two lines. Um, how do you see buses and trams kind of, uh, intersecting in the future? Is, is it safe to say that buses may eventually kind of see their, their kind of decline and, and [00:35:00] trams, a tram system being more effective? Or how do you see them running parallel?

[00:35:04] Gerry Scullion: Congruently,

[00:35:06] Steven Russell: one of, one of the arguments for. Autonomous, an autonomous system is actually that, that, that very use case, it's trams are very, very disruptive and very expensive to put in. Whether it's, if, if you could put in a larger autonomous service that ran maybe with not on a track, um, yeah. What would that look like and what, what's the business case behind that?

[00:35:28] Steven Russell: So that, that's some of the feasibility studies that I believe are getting done this now. Mm-hmm. To, to look.

[00:35:34] Gerry Scullion: And even in within cities, like making them more bike accessible versus bus centric, is that something that, you know, it's very easy for us to get, you know, kind of excited about buses and autonomous, whereas there seems to be a much bigger drive globally to remove vehicles from the city center and move into bicycle led and.

[00:35:57] Gerry Scullion: You know, scooters and [00:36:00] stuff like this. I know Tier mobility, Georgie, who, who's a friend of mine, is the C P O and Tier Mobility, and they, they do an awful lot of work and it's creating the, the broader ecosystem of electric driven mobility. Um, Is that something that you see that maybe the autonomous vehicles are more for the, the broader metro system, or is it still something that you see in the future where buses will still have a place in say, 10 years time within the city center?

[00:36:29] Gerry Scullion: Do you have any thoughts on that?

[00:36:30] Steven Russell: I, I think, I think it depends how it all comes together. I mean, there's a lot of interest in things like transport hubs, this now where mm-hmm. Potentially all the, the trains, the buses all link up outside the city. Then smaller shuttles take inside. There's nice buses, nice electric scooters and walking route into the city.

[00:36:47] Steven Russell: Um, so imagine likes

[00:36:57] Steven Russell: are the best way to, to, to [00:37:00] move people and avoid congestion. It's the single occupancy cars that are Yeah, the.

[00:37:06] Gerry Scullion: Yeah, I, I really like the,

[00:37:07] Steven Russell: the sort of the, the, it's like an inverted travel pyramid where it's like walking and wheeling. Then you get the bicycles, then you get the shared transport. Then you've got, yeah.

[00:37:16] Steven Russell: Taxis, cars, planes underneath. So absolutely where, where the priorities, where the investment should be going.

[00:37:23] Gerry Scullion: Steve, and look, this is a huge topic, right? And I'm, I'm, I'm trying to keep it relatively compact, um, uh, so people can listen to it and digest it and come back to it. But if people wanna follow Stagecoach puss, I'll put a link to Stage Coach Bush's, uh, LinkedIn page that they can follow.

[00:37:38] Gerry Scullion: The development, but if people wanna reach out to you, cuz I'm sure people will be interested in staying up to date on what you are doing with Stage Coach Buss, what are the best ways for people to get in touch with you?

[00:37:51] Steven Russell: Eh, so you can find me on LinkedIn. I think I'm Steven G. Russell. Yeah. Yeah. Or I'm on Twitter, which is, uh, Steve has ideas.

[00:37:59] Steven Russell: Uh, [00:38:00] I'm not on Twitter

[00:38:00] Gerry Scullion: very much. That's awesome, Steve. And look, I, I like to wrap up every episode with, um, a little thank you for your openness, uh, talking to me. You know about stuff that pro probably is still kind of relatively high in the air, so really appreciate giving me the time and the energy today to, to chat to us.

[00:38:20] Gerry Scullion: Um, so thank you so much. No problem.

[00:38:22] Steven Russell: It's been great. Jerry, thank you for having,

[00:38:28] Gerry Scullion: And there you go folks. I hope you enjoyed that episode and if you enjoyed it and want to listen to more, why not visit? This is hate where you can learn more about what we are up to and also explore our courses whil through there. Thanks again for listening.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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