Above image: A conceptual image of a ST Kinetics’ Autonomous Bus Prototype. Credit: ST Kinetics
As part of efforts by the Committee on Autonomous Road Transport for Singapore (CARTS) to catalyse the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs) to enhance Singapore’s land transport system, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) has signed a partnership agreement with ST Kinetics to develop and trial autonomous buses. This is the fourth such agreement signed, in addition to LTA’s ongoing partnerships with the Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) to develop and trial autonomous bus technology, as well as with Delphi and nuTonomy to conduct autonomous mobility-on-demand trials.
The proposal from ST Kinetics, the land systems and specialty vehicles arm of ST Engineering, had been shortlisted under LTA’s Request for Information (RFI) issued in June 2015 on how AV technology can be harnessed as part of mobility concepts such as mobility-on-demand and autonomous buses. In January 2017, NTU also announced the launch of a Smart Mobility Consortium with NXP to test V2X communications technologies and potentially trial the use of connected autonomous within the NTU campus.
LTA aims to provide convenient, comfortable and efficient shared transport options for commuters, to encourage more people to walk, cycle and take public transport. This includes higher-capacity vehicles, such as buses, to ferry people to their destinations in a timely manner, especially during the morning and evening peak hours. ST Kinetics’ proposal to develop and trial autonomous buses will enable LTA to explore if AV technology can meet this need.
Development and deployment plans over a three-and-a-half year period
According to the press release, ST Kinetics will develop and integrate the AV technologies onto two 40-seater electric buses. The buses can be deployed to serve fixed and scheduled services for intra- and inter-town travel in the future. The buses will use a satellite-based Global Positioning (GPS) System and a suite of sensors to scan and determine their location and immediate surroundings and navigate autonomously,
Radars and sonars will help the buses to detect other vehicles and pedestrians up to 200m ahead. ST Kinetics is also working to improve the autonomous buses’ ability to navigate in heavier rain conditions, up from the current 10mm/h to 30mm/h. For more information on ST Kinetics’ autonomous bus prototypes, please refer to the Annex.
Autonomous buses will be tested in various environments under the three-and-a-half year project. LTA is working with stakeholders such as the National University of Singapore (NUS) as well as JTC to look at suitable trial locations. These could potentially include Jurong Island and the NUS’ campus. The initial testing will be conducted during off-peak periods at an industrial area, where the road infrastructure is less complex. They will be progressively introduced to more complex trial sites, as the autonomous buses are gradually equipped with more advanced capabilities.
The development and 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. In the longer term, it is envisaged that the trial could be extended to public roads in towns to enhance intra-town travel.
Mr. Lam Wee Shann, LTA’s Chief Technology Officer, said:
“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. This is also in line with the whole-of-government effort to explore and apply smart technologies to improve our lives. We are excited to partner ST Kinetics to develop autonomous electric buses, that if successfully deployed, will benefit commuters and greatly change the way we travel.”