Autonomous electric bus unveiled in Singapore

Wednesday, 13 March, 2019


Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) and Volvo Buses have launched what is claimed to be the world’s first full-size, autonomous electric bus.

The single-deck, 36-seat, Volvo 7900 Electric bus is 12 metres long and provides a quiet operation with zero emissions, requiring 80% less energy than an equivalent-sized diesel bus. It features light detection and ranging (LIDAR) sensors, stereo-vision cameras that capture images in 3D and a global navigation satellite system (GNSS) that utilises real-time kinematics, with multiple data sources enabling pinpoint location accuracy of up to one centimetre.

These sensors and navigation platforms will be managed by a comprehensive AI system that was developed by the NTU researchers. It not only operates the sensors and navigation system on the bus, but also enables it to navigate autonomously through dense traffic and tropical weather conditions. The AI system is protected with cybersecurity and firewall measures to prevent unwanted intrusions.

The bus comes with Volvo Autonomous Research Platform software that is connected to key controls. The system is also hooked up to an inertial management unit, which acts like a two-in-one gyroscope and accelerometer, measuring the lateral and angular rate of the bus. This will improve its navigation when going over uneven terrain and around sharp bends, ensuring a smoother ride.

Volvo said the vehicle is its first fully autonomous and electric bus in public transportation anywhere in the world, and chose NTU Singapore as its global partner to trial the full-size single-deck bus. The bus’s launch marks a key milestone in NTU and Volvo’s development program under the university’s partnership with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to develop and conduct autonomous vehicle bus trials for fixed route and scheduled services, which was announced in October 2016.

The Volvo bus is the first of two that has undergone preliminary rounds of rigorous testing at NTU’s Centre of Excellence for Testing and Research of AVs (CETRAN) — a centre dedicated to research and testing of autonomous vehicles. It replicates various elements of Singapore’s urban road condition, such as traffic signals, multiple bus stops and pedestrian crossings, and tropical conditions such as driving through heavy rain and partially flooded roads. Operated by NTU scientists, CETRAN is located on the NTU Smart Campus in the Jurong Innovation District.

While plans are in place to test the first bus on the NTU Smart Campus, a second bus will undergo tests at a bus depot managed by Singapore’s public transport operator, SMRT. SMRT will play a key role in determining the roadworthiness of the autonomous vehicles on public roads, providing a real-world environment to assess the vehicle’s ability to autonomously navigate into vehicle washing bays and park safely at charging areas.

Another partner, ABB, will develop a smart fast-charging solution. Based on the OppCharge concept, ABB’s HVC 300P fast charge system is suitable for autonomous charging in bus depots as well as in running traffic.

Offering a charge power of 300 kW via a pantograph mounted on the infrastructure, the fast chargers will recharge a battery in 3–6 min. This will enable charging during the layover times at the end of the bus route, without impacting normal operations.

“We are very proud to be showcasing our electric bus featuring autonomous driving technology,” said Håkan Agnevall, President Volvo Buses. “It represents a key milestone for the industry and is an important step towards our vision for a cleaner, safer and smarter city.”

Image caption: The first of two Volvo Electric buses will soon begin trials at the NTU Smart Campus before being extended to public roads.

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