Autonomous shuttle buses are now picking up passengers on Singapore roads as part of a year-long study to assess the commercial viability of such services. This phase of the trial follows 1.5 months of road testing and is confined to the National University of Singapore's Kent Ridge campus.
Operated by local transport company ComfortDelgro, the driverless NUSmart Shuttle sits up to 12 passengers and operates on weekdays along a predefined 1.6km route. The electric vehicles initially run at intervals of 20 minutes from 10.20am to 11.20am and from 2.20pm to 3.20pm, with operating times to be extended progressively during the trial, according to ComfortDelgro, which said the service would be provided free to commuters.
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The shuttle will be halted when it rains to allow the vehicles to calibrate their internal systems, though, they may remain on the roads during wet weather at a later stage, said the transport company.
Built by driverless technology vendor EasyMile, the vehicles are armed with various sensors to detect potential obstacles and operate on their own software and hardware platforms, without assistance from external systems, to navigate their way on the roads. These EasyMile EZ10 autonomous systems have been involved in more than 230 deployments across 26 countries, transporting more than 320,000 passengers over 600,000km, according to EasyMile.
A safety operator also has been assigned to be on board the NUSmart Shuttle during the year-long pilot to ensure it operates safely and address queries from passengers.
The trial is funded by automotive distributor Inchcape Singapore.
ComfortDelGro's managing director and group CEO Yang Ban Seng said: "This passenger service trial provides us with an opportunity to observe how passengers respond to an autonomous vehicle. The operational experience gained will also be invaluable as we prepare for a future where autonomous and artificial intelligence becomes an integral part of our daily commute."
National University of Singapore's senior vice president of campus infrastructure, Yong Kwet Yew, added that autonomous vehicles had potential as a "promising mobility solution". Yong noted: "The knowledge and experience gained from this trial will bring us closer to the day when autonomous vehicles become a common safe mode of transport and, with citizens who are comfortable with embracing new technologies, we can then further entrench Singapore's standing as a smart nation."
In March 2019, Nanyang Technological University and Volvo Buses also announced plans to trial a full-size autonomous electric bus stretching 12 metres long and able to accommodate up to 80 passengers. The pilot was part of a scheme under the Land Transport Authority to develop and run driverless bus trials for fixed route and scheduled services.
The Singapore government in January released a set of national standards to guide the local industry in the "safe" development and rollout of autonomous vehicles. Called Technical Reference 68 (TR 68), they outlined guidelines related to vehicle behaviour, functional safety, cybersecurity, and data formats.
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