Singapore gears up for autonomous vehicle technology
From autonomous public buses, driverless taxis to truck platooning, Singapore is looking to catalyse the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs) to enhance its transportation system. The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is exploring how self-driving technology can be applied to bring in new forms of shared mobility, and also address constraints in land and manpower.
“We are focusing on self-driving technology in a big way because they have the potential to dramatically improve public transport. For instance, we could have a fleet of shared self-driving pods or shuttles that can be called upon to bring us from our doorstep to the MRT station. Self-driving buses, on the other hand, could address our problem of driver shortage,” said Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng.
We take a look at some of Singapore’s autonomous vehicle trials and initiatives in the works.
ST Kinetics Autonomous Public Buses
Earlier this month, LTA partnered with ST Kinetics to develop and trial autonomous buses. AV technologies will be developed and integrated onto two 40-seater electric buses that can be deployed to serve fixed and scheduled services.
To navigate autonomously, the buses will be equipped with:
- Vehicle-to-vehicle, vehicle-to-infrastructure, WiFi and 4G connectivity
- GPS and sensors for precise positioning
- Perception sensors to provide 2D and 3D maps for obstacle avoidance
- Radars and sonars to detect vehicles and pedestrains up to 200m ahead
The 3.5 year project will see the autonomous buses being tested in various environments. The testing of the autonomous buses will aim to cover as many scenarios faced by bus feeder services as possible, to deepen understanding on the current state of the technology and to prepare for eventual full-scale operations in the future when the technology matures.
“Currently, most AV technology developers are focusing their efforts on developing self-driving cars. Singapore’s need for high-capacity vehicles to address commuters’ peak-hour demands presents an opportunity for companies such as ST Kinetics to develop autonomous buses to address this latent demand,” said LTA’s Chief Technology Officer, Mr Lam Wee Shann.
NUS-SMART Self-driving Vehicles
Since 2010, National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) have collaborated to test a fleet of self-driving golf-buggies at NUS campus. Rides are requested via a smartphone by selecting desired pick-up and drop-off locations.
In 2015, an electric passenger car was retrofitted with AV technology and tested on public roads at One-North district.
A prototype of a four-wheel self-driving Personal Mobility Device was also unveiled for public trial in 2016. The device is developed to provide mobility to persons with reduced mobility, including the elderly, youth and people with disabilities, and is intended to complement the existing transportation system.
nuTonomy Driverless Taxis
In August 2016, Singapore became the first country in the world to trial mobility-on-demand driverless taxis. nuTonomy, a developer of autonomous vehicle technology, offered the first public road tests of driverless taxis, beating out Uber. A small group of customers were invited to test the service, using a smartphone app to book a ride within a 2.5 square km area in the One-North district. For the trial, a human engineer will be on board each car to observe system performance and ensure safety. nuTonomy plans to have a fully driverless fleet of 75 taxis by 2018.
NTU's Autonomous Vehicle Trials
In December 2016, a new electric driverless minibus was put on trial tests at NTU. It can take up to 15 people and is equipped with cameras and light radars to provide 360-degree detection.
The Energy Research Institute at NTU (ERI@N) is currently testing their self-driving vehicle technology, and plans to develop and launch two 80-seater driverless hybrid buses by 2018. The buses will feature intelligent sensors, V2V communication and opportunistic charging technology at bus stops and depots.
Gardens By The Bay's Auto Rider
In 2016, Gardens by the Bay launched the Auto Rider for public rides, the first fully-operational self-driving vehicle in Asia. Fully electric-powered and air-conditioned, each vehicle has a capacity of 10 people, and provides visitors with an alternative mode of getting around.
image: Gardens by the Bay
Truck Platooning Trials
In January 2017, the Ministry of Transport, PSA Corporation, Scania and Toyota formed a partnership to develop and test an autonomous truck platooning system for use on Singapore's public roads over a three-year period.
Truck platooning involves a human-driven lead truck leading a convoy of driverless trucks. In the Singapore trials, the trucks will transport containers from one port terminal to another. Truck platooning will alleviate Singapore’s shortage of manpower, and allow more freight movement to be conducted at night to ease traffic congestion.
“Trucking as we know it today is a highly labour-intensive industry. We face a shortage of truck drivers. In this regard, truck platooning technology presents us with an opportunity to boost productivity in both the port sector and the trucking industry. It will also open up opportunities for truck drivers to take on higher-skilled roles as fleet operators and managers,” said Mr Pang Kin Keong, Permanent Secretary for Transport and Chairman of the Committee on Autonomous Road Transport in Singapore (CARTS).