Singapore introduces its first driverless buses


Driverless buses could start plying the roads in Jurong West as early as 2018, after the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) inked an agreement for the first autonomous bus trial on Wednesday (Oct 19), continuing the Republic’s bid to take the lead in self-driving technology.

Under the trial, the Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) will develop and test driverless buses offering scheduled services that operate within and between towns, along fixed routes.

 The buses will start running on routes around NTU and CleanTech Park in 2018, and the test could be extended to Pioneer MRT Station the following year.

The agreement comes more than a year after the authorities issued a Request for Information for proposals on autonomous vehicle technology, and amid ongoing trials involving cars at one-north.

“Current efforts worldwide have been focused on cars, so this autonomous bus trial is the first of its kind in Singapore that will aim to improve road safety, reduce vehicle congestion, alleviate pollution and address manpower challenges,” said Professor Lam Khin Yong, NTU chief of staff and vice-president (research).

The agreement was signed at the opening of the three-day Singapore International Transport Congress and Exhibition (Sitce).

The four-year trial begins with the refinement of sensor technology, currently being used on electric shuttles plying routes around the NTU Campus and CleanTech Park in the Jurong Innovation District.

In the next six months, two 12m-long electric hybrid buses — capable of ferrying up to 50 passengers each and running at speeds of 40kmh — will arrive on the NTU campus, and will be fitted with intelligent sensors and charging technology, as well as an autonomous system to navigate in local traffic and climate conditions.

These buses can power up on the go, taking another 30 seconds to recharge at bus depots or bus stops along their route. The autonomous bus technology will take about a year to refine, said Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of ERI@N.

Challenges include the need to programme the buses to rejoin normal traffic after stopping at bus stops for passengers. “It’ll be challenging for the buses to ease into the traffic after making frequent stops, and we also have to plan for turns on the road, which the buses will have to manoeuvre around. We need to have multiple sensors to provide for that,” he said in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Following an accident involving a nuTonomy self-driving car and a lorry on Tuesday, Prof Subodh said that his researchers will be spending more time identifying possible safety compromises and run simulations on the buses to ensure safety.

The autonomous bus trial comes on the back on a Request for Information exercise launched earlier this week, calling for proposals on self-driving multi-purpose utility vehicles, which could be used for street cleaning. In August, the LTA also announced trials for self-driving taxis in one-north.

In its press release announcing the latest trial on Wednesday, the transport authority said: “LTA will continue to seek collaborations with other potential industry partners to conduct autonomous mobility-on-demand and self-driving bus trials.”

The authority has also taken steps to improve one-north as a test-bed for autonomous vehicle trials, such as doubling the length of the test routes and installing closed-circuit television cameras at 20 locations to monitor the behaviour of autonomous vehicles at “critical” locations such as traffic junctions.

Source: Today Online