Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) and Volvo Buses have unveiled the world’s first full size, autonomous electric bus recently. The single-deck Volvo Electric bus is 12 m in length and has a total capacity of nearly 80 passengers.
This is a momentous milestone in NTU and Volvo’s development program under the university’s collaboration with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to design and conduct autonomous vehicle bus trials for fixed route and scheduled services, which was publicized in October 2016.
The Volvo 7900 Electric bus is fitted with many sensors and navigation controls managed by a complete artificial intelligence (AI) system. Ensuring highest reliability and safety, the AI system is also shielded with industry-leading cybersecurity measures to prevent unsolicited cyber disturbances. The Volvo bus is the first of two that has been subjected to initial rounds of stringent testing at the Centre of Excellence for Testing and Research of Autonomous vehicles at NTU (CETRAN). Plans are ready to test the bus at NTU and to then extend the route beyond the NTU campus.
This fully autonomous electric bus will play a role in shaping the future of public transportation that is safe, efficient, reliable and comfortable for all commuters. It will soon be tested on the NTU Smart Campus, which has been home to a number of innovations as a living testbed for technologies that impact the human condition and the quality of life. This research project not only involves cutting-edge science, technology and AI, but is also an excellent example of close partnership among academia, industry and government agencies in translating basic research into products and services for the benefit of Singapore and beyond. And we have a top team of local and international partners in this multi-disciplinary collaboration.
Subra Suresh, Professor and President, NTU.
The electric bus contains 36 seats and offers a noiseless operation with zero emissions. It also requires 80% lesser energy than a same-sized diesel bus. This is Volvo’s first completely autonomous and electric bus in public transportation in the world. For this trial of a full-size single deck bus, Volvo has selected NTU Singapore as its global partner.
We are very proud to be showcasing our electric bus featuring autonomous driving technology. It represents a key milestone for the industry and is an important step towards our vision for a cleaner, safer, and smarter city. The journey towards full autonomy is undoubtedly a complex one, and our valued partnership with the NTU and LTA is critical in realizing this vision, as is our commitment to applying a safety-first approach.
Håkan Agnevall, President, Volvo Buses.
The NTU and Volvo collaboration is part of the partnership between the University and LTA under NTU’s living lab platform. The platform assesses road-worthiness and technology maturity, including the certification of technologies for use on public roads.
The launch of the autonomous bus for on-road trials marks an important milestone in the joint project between LTA and NTU Singapore to develop autonomous buses for fixed routes and scheduled services. It is in line with Singapore’s vision of deploying autonomous vehicles to improve accessibility and connectivity for commuters. We will continue to work closely with NTU to facilitate the safe and robust testing of the autonomous vehicles.
Lam Wee Shann, Chief Innovation and Technology Officer, Land Transport Authority.
The bus is going through stringent tests at CETRAN. Jointly founded by NTU, JTC, and LTA, CETRAN is a center devoted to research and testing of autonomous vehicles. It replicates different elements of Singapore’s urban road condition, such as multiple bus stops and pedestrian crossings, traffic signals, and tropical conditions such as driving in heavy rain and through moderately flooded roads. Run by NTU researchers, CETRAN is situated on the NTU Smart Campus in the Jurong Innovation District.
Advanced sensors and AI technology protected with cybersecurity measures
The bus is fitted with a Volvo Autonomous Research Platform software that is linked to key controls such as its navigation system, as well as a number of sensors.
This includes an advanced global navigation satellite system that uses real-time kinematics, light detection and ranging sensors (LIDARS), and stereo-vision cameras that capture images in 3D. This is similar to any global positioning system (GPS), but uses many data sources to deliver precise location accuracy of up to 1 cm.
The system is also linked to an “inertial management unit”, which serves like a two-in-one accelerometer and gyroscope, measuring the angular and lateral rate of the bus. This will enhance its navigation when going over rough terrain and around sharp curves, guaranteeing a smoother ride.
These GPS platforms and sensors will be controlled by an all-inclusive AI system that was developed by NTU scientists. It not only works the several sensors and GPS systems on the bus, but also enables it to steer autonomously through heavy traffic and tropical weather situations.
The AI system is safeguarded with industry-leading cybersecurity and firewall measures to stop unsolicited intrusions for maximum reliability and safety.
Multi-industry collaboration with partners
As part of the public tests, Singapore’s public transport operator SMRT will play a major role in establishing the roadworthiness of autonomous vehicles on public roads.
While plans are ready to test the first bus on the NTU campus, a second autonomous 12-meter Volvo 7900 Electric bus will go through tests at a bus depot run by SMRT. It will offer a real-world environment to evaluate the vehicle’s capacity to autonomously steer into vehicle washing bays and park safely at charging areas.
Mr. Tan Kian Heong, Managing Director, Buses & Roads Services and Senior Vice President, Human Resources, said, “SMRT is pleased to support the research and development of these eco-friendly autonomous electric buses. As part of the Autonomous Electric Bus trial, we will leverage on our expertise in operations and maintenance of buses, and work closely with our partners to test the command and control system required to operate a fleet of autonomous vehicles. This will help us to stay future-ready with the latest urban mobility solutions to enhance the accessibility and connectivity of our public transport network.”
Another partner, ABB, a revolutionary technology leader in digital industries and world leader in rapid-charging infrastructure for electric vehicles, will create a smart rapid-charging solution. Grounded on the OppCharge concept, ABB’s HVC 300P fast charge system is perfectly suited for autonomous charging in bus depots as well as in running traffic.
The rapid chargers will offer a charge power of 300 kW via a pantograph placed on the infrastructure. They will recharge a battery within three to six minutes. This will facilitate charging during the layover times at the end of the bus route, without disturbing typical operations.
Tarak Mehta, President of Electrification Products division, said: “ABB is committed to pioneering technological innovations for a sustainable future. We are extremely excited to collaborate on such a landmark project which marks a positive step toward the electrification of public transport across the region and beyond.”
Video credit: Nanyang Technological University