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Ready, Steady, Go!: Singapore leads AV deployment with the launch of the world’s first full-size autonomous bus [free access]

May 1, 2019

In the race to test and deploy autonomous buses, Singapore has emerged as the frontrunner by taking several significant initiatives in the past two years. The city state has published the standards and guidelines for autonomous vehicles (AVs), launched the world’s first full-size autonomous bus, built a test town, tested self-driving buses in Sentosa, and is on track for a planned pilot deployment in 2022.

 

Standards and guidelines for AVs published

 

In January 2019, Enterprise Singapore published the provisional national standards to guide the development and deployment of AVs. The standards are termed Technical Reference 68 (TR 68) and cover areas such as vehicle behaviour, functional safety, cybersecurity, and data formats.

 

In addition to safety, the aim of TR 68 is to provide a strong foundation to ensure interoperability of data and cybersecurity that are necessary for the deployment of AVs in an urban environment.  TR 68 is also aimed at building up the AV ecosystem, including start-ups, SMEs, and testing, inspection, and certification service providers.

 

The standards have been developed after a year of discussions between representatives from the AV industry, government agencies, research institutions, and institutions of higher learning. They will continue to be refined as the industry matures.

 

World’s first 12-metre electric autonomous bus launched

 

In March 2019, the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Sweden-based Volvo launched a 12-metre autonomous electric bus.

 

The project is part of an ongoing collaboration between NTU, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) of Singapore, and Volvo Buses to develop autonomous buses for fixed-route and scheduled services similar to existing public bus services in Singapore.

 

The bus is equipped with global positioning system (GPS) antennas, lidar sensors, stereo-vision cameras that record a three-dimensional view of the surroundings, and the Volvo Autonomous Research Platform software that is connected to key controls such as the navigation system and sensors. The system is also connected to an inertial management unit, which acts like a two-in-one gyroscope and accelerometer, measuring the lateral and angular rates of the bus. This enables the bus to improve its navigation over uneven terrain and around sharp bends. These sensors and GPS platforms are managed by an artificial intelligence (AI) system developed by NTU. The AI system is protected with cybersecurity and firewall protection measures.The bus is classified as having near Level 4 autonomy.

 

The bus can travel 25 km on a full charge. ABB has provided the 300 kW HVC 300P fast-charging system that can charge the bus between 3 and 6 minutes.

 

The bus has a capacity for 80 passengers. It provides a quiet operation with zero emissions and also requires 80 per cent less energy than an equivalent-sized diesel bus.

 

The bus, which has undergone multiple tests at the Centre of Excellence for Testing and Research of Autonomous Vehicles NTU (CETRAN), will begin trials within the university’s campus. Researchers will test new functions and study how the bus interacts with other road-users. The bus will be tested without any passenger pick-ups. Another bus will be tested in partnership with SMRT at a bus depot to check if it can navigate itself into washing bays and park at charging stations.

 

Test town built

 

With the opening of the CETRAN in Jurong District in November 2017, Singapore has created a test site for driverless vehicles complete with intersections, traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, bus stops, mock skyscrapers, a mini hill, and a rain machine to simulatethe wet tropical weather of the city state in an area of 2 hectares. The site has been jointly developed by LTA, NTU and JTC.

 

More than 10 companies are testing vehicles at this centre. Seven 360-degree cameras live-stream visuals of the tests to LTA’s Intelligent Transport Systems Centre. With this information, the government is building a database that will allow it to evaluate the deployment of AVs on public roads. The speed limit at the site is 20–25 km per hour.

 

Trials in Sentosa

 

In June 2018, the trials of four autonomous shuttles began in Sentosa along a 1-km stretch of service road at Tanjong Beach. The shuttles are a pair of 22-seater mini-buses and two 15-seater shuttles.

 

The shuttles are being operated by ST Engineering’s Land Systems and SBS Transit, in partnership with the Sentosa Development Corporation (SDC) and the Ministry of Transport. They are equipped with technologies such as radar, lidar, GPS, odometry, and computer vision, allowing the 6.8-metre electric bus to navigate without a driver and sense its environment. The shuttles also feature ST Engineering’s platform-agnostic Autonomous 2 Vehicle Management System, which analyses passenger demand and optimises route management for such ride-sharing services.

 

In 2019, a three-month public trial will be conducted on a 5-km stretch. During the trial, commuters will be able to hail the autonomous on-demand shuttles through their smartphones or at kiosks.

 

Pilot deployment of autonomous buses planned in 2022

 

The LTA and the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) have launched a Call for Collaboration (CFC) to invite interested companies/consortiums to submit proposals to collaborate on the pilot deployment of autonomous buses and shuttles in Punggol, Tengah, and the Jurong Innovation District.

 

This CFC is a follow-up to the request for information launched in November 2017, and also builds on the various AV trials conducted in Singapore in recent years. Through the CFC, LTA and EDB are keen to partner with companies/consortiums that have the requisite capabilities, including commercial capabilities in Singapore, to establish AV research and development (R&D) centres, to undertake product development, to pilot the deployment of AVs for public transport.

 

The CFC is being managed by the AV Industry Development Office (AVIDO), which is jointly set up by LTA and EDB.

 

The deadline for the submission of the CFC proposal is July 31, 2019.

 

Key collaborations and tie-ups

 

Since 2017, the Singapore Autonomous Vehicles Consortium comprising ST Engineering, A*STAR’s Institute for Infocomm Research, the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Faculty of Engineering, the Singapore University of Technology & Design, and NTU through the ST Engineering-NTU Corporate Lab—has been developing niche AV technologies such as automotive cybersecurity, advanced autonomy, and platform-agnostic AV kits through a build–test–deploy spiral approach.

 

In April 2018, NTU signed an agreement with SMRT Services and Netherlands-based 2getthere to deploy mini driverless shuttles with a carrying capacity of 24 passengers at the campus by 2019. These shuttles were tested along a 350-metre route between two student halls on the campus between November 2017 and April 2018, during which they transported around 4,000 passengers. The shuttles can reach a maximum speed of 40 km per hour. They use magnetic pellets on the road for autonomous navigation and can travel in both directions.

 

ComfortDelGro, Inchcape Singapore, NUS and France-based EasyMile have tied up to undertake trials of an autonomous shuttle at the NUS campus. The EasyMile EZ10 autonomous shuttle, which is being funded by Inchcape Singapore, will be operated by ComfortDelGro’s wholly owned subsidiary ComfortDelGro Bus Pte Ltd on the 1.6 km stretch between Heng Mui Keng Terrace and Business Link in the NUS campus. The shuttle has a total carrying capacity of 15 passengers.

 

The trial is significant as it will be the first of its kinds in Singapore to be conducted by a transport operator and it will take place in real mixed traffic conditions, alongside regular buses, cars, and motorcycles. In addition, it will rely on its own software and hardware technologies for navigation on the roads, without the assistance of any external infrastructure. A safety engineer will be on board during the trial.

 

The initial stage of the trial will be focused on collecting data for its mapping and navigation systems, and will not be open for passenger service. Once the trial management team is satisfied that the shuttle is ready for commuter trials, passengers will be able to start boarding the vehicle.

 

In November 2018, Germany-based automotive manufacturing company Continental Automotive Singapore and EasyMile unveiled plans to work together to devise solutions for AVs in Singapore. By 2019, the two companies plan to get the vehicle certified – with its built-in technology and other additional elements that they are planning to incorporate. By 2020, they plan to reach the stage where the vehicle does not require a safety driver. The two automotive companies are working with a team from the Ministry of Transport and LTA to pick the most suitable locations for trials.

 

In March 2019, ST Engineering announced that its land systems arm has expanded its portfolio of autonomous bus platforms with the inclusion of electric buses from electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer BYD. The Group intends to form a consortium in response to LTA and EDB’s CFC. The ST Engineering AV kit will be integrated onto the BYD buses and the partners will look at marketing the joint platform internationally.

 

Singapore leads the way

 

Singapore has been ranked second in KPMG’s Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index (AVRI) for the past two years. The index covers four areas: policy and legislation, technology and innovation, infrastructure, and consumer acceptance. Table 1 provides the list of the top 10 countries that are most prepared for the deployment of AVs.

 

Table 1: List of the top 10 countries that are most prepared for the deployment of AVs

Country

2019 Rank

2018 Rank

The Netherlands

1

1

Singapore

2

2

Norway

3

New entrant on the list

United States

4

3

Sweden

5

4

Finland

6

New entrant on the list

United Kingdom

7

5

Germany

8

6

United Arab Emirates

9

8

Japan

10

11

Source: KPMG’s Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index of 2018 and 2019

 

The 2019 AVRI states that Singapore ranks first in the two areas of policy and legislation and consumer acceptance, and ranks second in the area of infrastructure. As per KPMG, this clearly reflects the fact that the ecosystem for AVs in Singapore is ready and that the government’s mobility policy is aligned with its goal of establishing the city state as a Smart Nation. However, Singapore ranks relatively low on technology and innovation, standing at the 15th position out of the 25 countries in the survey.