Volvo trials autonomous electric bus ahead of public release in Singapore
Image credit: NTU/Volvo
Two Volvo Electric buses are undergoing road trials at the NTU Smart Campus at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, ahead of their anticipated release onto public roads.
The trial involves the single-deck Volvo 7900 Electric bus, the world’s first full-size, autonomous electric bus, which is 12 metres long and with a full-load capacity of approximately 80 passengers. The electric bus has 36 seats and provides a quiet operation with zero emissions. It also requires 80 per cent less energy than an equivalent-sized diesel bus.
The Volvo bus is the first of two that will undergo preliminary rounds of rigorous testing at NTU’s Centre of Excellence for Testing and Research of Autonomous vehicles (CETRAN). The bus will initially be tested at NTU and then the route subsequently extended beyond the NTU campus.
At CETRAN, which is staffed by NTU scientists, the track replicates various elements of Singapore’s urban road condition, such as traffic signals, dense traffic, multiple bus stops and pedestrian crossings, as well as tropical weather conditions such as driving through heavy rain and partially flooded roads.
The Volvo 7900 Electric bus is equipped with numerous sensors and navigation controls managed by the Volvo Autonomous Research Platform software, a comprehensive artificial intelligence (AI) system. This includes light detection and ranging sensors (lidars), stereo-vision cameras that capture images in 3D and an advanced global navigation satellite system that uses real-time kinematics. This is like any global positioning system (GPS), but uses multiple data sources to give pinpoint location accuracy of up to one centimetre.
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.
Ensuring maximum safety and reliability, the AI system is also protected with advanced cyber-security and firewall measures to prevent unwanted cyber intrusion.
Professor Subra Suresh, NTU president, said, “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. We have a top team of local and international partners in this multi-disciplinary collaboration.”
This is Volvo’s first fully autonomous and electric bus in public transportation anywhere in the world. For this trial of a full-size single-deck bus, Volvo has chosen NTU Singapore as its global partner.
Håkan Agnevall, president of Volvo Buses, said, “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 realising this vision, as is our commitment to applying a safety-first approach.”
The NTU and Volvo partnership is part of the collaboration between the University and LTA under NTU’s living lab platform. The platform assesses technology maturity and roadworthiness, including the certification of technologies for deployment on public roads.
Lam Wee Shann, chief innovation and technology officer for Singapore's Land Transport Authority, said, “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.”
As part of the public trials, Singapore’s public transport operator SMRT will play a key role in determining the roadworthiness of autonomous vehicles on public roads. While plans are in place to test the first bus on the NTU campus, a second autonomous Volvo 7900 Electric bus will undergo tests at a bus depot managed by SMRT. It will provide a real-world environment to assess the vehicle’s ability to navigate autonomously into vehicle washing bays and park safely at charging areas.
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