Friday, 21 October 2016

Self-driving buses to be tested in Jurong West under LTA and NTU tie-up

If 2018 trial succeeds, technology may be used for other bus services in five years' time
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2016

Singapore's first self-driving buses will hit the roads at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2018, in another trial on the use of autonomous vehicles here.

If successful, experts say the technology could be applied to other bus services in as early as five years' time, starting with shuttle service- type routes with a few stops and predictable traffic conditions.

The trial places Singapore among a handful of cities, such as Helsinki and Perth, which are also testing driverless buses. It will be run by the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Energy Research Institute at NTU (ERI@N).The latest pilot adds to Singapore's driverless vehicle push, which includes an on-demand self-driving taxi trial ongoing at one-north. The LTA and JTC are also jointly developing a 1.8ha test circuit at CleanTech Park for driverless vehicles.

The LTA and NTU said yesterday that driverless buses, combined with the rail network and self-driving shuttles or pods for first- and last-mile commutes, will form the future transportation landscape, one "not dominated by roads, carparks and private cars".

"Self-driving buses will arrive at bus stops at precise timings every morning, allowing us to plan our journeys more effectively," they said in a joint news release. "During off-peak hours, these buses will be deployed dynamically based on commuter demand and the fastest possible route, thus reducing the number of vehicles needed to ply the town and maximising the number of commuters on board each vehicle."

For the trial, ERI@N plans to use two electric-hybrid buses, which it will outfit with intelligent sensors, and develop an autonomous system that can navigate local road traffic and climate conditions. The trial is scheduled for early 2018, and starts with a 1.4km route between NTU and CleanTech Park. A year later, the plan is to stretch the route to the nearby Pioneer MRT station.

ERI@N's executive director, Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, said the institute is studying which brand of bus to use, but it will be picked from among those already used on Singapore's public bus network.

"We want to make sure that once we prove it (the system), there should not be any hindrance to scaling and going from two buses to multiple buses," Prof Subodh said.

Associate Professor Marcelo Ang, acting director of the National University of Singapore's Advanced Robotics Centre, said self-driving buses could be deployed on short routes like a shuttle bus service in as early as five years' time. But he feels that a dynamically routed autonomous bus service may take 10 more years. "For shuttle services, you can programme the buses to anticipate what the traffic conditions are at various times... But for a dynamic route, there are more uncertainties."

Separately, the LTA and NTU also signed a deal to improve rail reliability by developing a real-time condition monitoring prototype. This will help detect early signs of defects in traction power.

Driverless buses in 2018: Rigorous trials before self-driving buses hit the road
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 20 Oct 2016

Self-driving buses will be put through rigorous trials before they are allowed on the road, said researchers.

This will include testing the vehicles' software and putting the buses on a test track, said Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, executive director of the Nanyang Technological University's (NTU) Energy Research Institute (ERI@N).

Such buses will first be tested at NTU in two years' time, in a collaboration between the institute and the Land Transport Authority (LTA). This pilot will involve two electric-hybrid buses plying between NTU and the nearby CleanTech Park.

But the announcement of the project yesterday came amid safety concerns over driverless vehicles, in the wake of an accident involving a driverless car and a lorry at one-north just the day before. It is believed to be the first accident involving a self-driving car in Singapore.

Prof Subodh said ERI@N will build on its experience of running self-driving electric shuttles since 2013. The shuttles, called Navia, can carry up to eight passengers and are built by French firm Induct Technologies.

The autonomous driving software will be tested against different road scenarios here. This could involve motorcycles cutting into lanes or motorists changing lanes without signalling, Prof Subodh added.

The institute also plans to run the self-driving buses on a 1.8ha test circuit at CleanTech Park being developed by LTA and JTC, before putting them on the road.

On the road, the buses will travel at a top speed of 40kmh, and their batteries will be charged when there is a chance, such as when they stop at a bus stop or depot. The buses will have an operator on board to help commuters.

Responding to yesterday's announcement, National Transport Workers' Union executive secretary Melvin Yong said the union views the development with "both interest and concern".

Experts said that while bus drivers could be made redundant in future with the use of such vehicles, there will be new jobs created too.

"For example, they can handle the vehicle fleet management system in a control room, doing supervisory monitoring and control of the fleet of autonomous vehicles." said Associate Professor Marcelo Ang, acting director of the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Advanced Robotics Centre.

NUS transport researcher Lee Der Horng said self-driving buses could be a "timely solution" to the shortage of bus drivers.

But he added that machines can never fully replace drivers. "Without the driver, you must find a way to monitor the passengers' behaviour, including their intentions."

* Self-driving shuttle to ply NTU roads soon
It will carry up to 15 passengers on 1.5km route, as part of plans for driverless buses
By Adrian Lim, The Straits Times, 15 Dec 2016

In the lead-up to launching Singapore's first self-driving bus in two years, scientists at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) are ramping up their research in autonomous vehicle (AV) technology, through the use of larger and more sophisticated vehicles.

Within the next three months, they plan to roll out a driverless, air-conditioned shuttle that can carry up to 15 passengers. It will ply between CleanTech Park and the NTU campus over a 1.5km route.

Arma, the shuttle developed by French company Navya, will be the largest AV the Energy Research Institute at NTU (ERI@N) is putting on the campus' roads, building on its expertise with smaller self-driving vehicles, including a golf cart and an eight-person shuttle.

Plans are also afoot to test out a 25-seat self-driving bus next year, before scaling up to two full-sized buses in 2018.

"This will allow us to determine how many and what types of sensors are needed to go from a bus which can carry 15 passengers to a full-sized one, which is a 45- to 50-seater," said ERI@N executive director Subodh Mhaisalkar.

The eventual pilot of the two full-sized, self-driving buses is a collaboration between the Land Transport Authority and ERI@N, under a partnership inked in October.

It is part of Singapore's push towards AV adoption, which includes existing trials of self-driving taxis at one-north and the development of a 1.8ha test circuit at CleanTech Park.

To move autonomously, the Arma shuttle uses a Global Positioning System and four intelligent cameras that analyse road signs and traffic lights, along with eight lidar (light detection and ranging) sensors, which use laser beams to map its surrounding environment and detect obstacles.

The vehicle's software then makes sense of the data collected from the cameras and lidar sensors, helping the bus "to understand its environment, and when it needs to make a decision, such as the avoidance of traffic or going around an obstacle", said Professor Mhaisalkar.

Addressing issues of safety, Prof Mhaisalkar said the Arma will be tested out in different scenarios, such as in stop-and-go traffic, negotiating a roundabout and driving around obstacles, including a broken-down car. It will also be programmed to run on a fixed route, he added.

On Oct 18, a driverless car being tested by start-up nuTonomy collided with a lorry in Biopolis Drive. It is believed to be the first accident in Singapore involving an AV.

When launched, the Arma shuttle will run at speeds of up to 40kmh. It has 11 seats and standing space for four passengers.

An all-electric vehicle, it has a range of 130km on a full charge of battery. An operator will be on board to assist passengers, or to take control of the shuttle when needed.


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