World’s first full size autonomous electric bus

Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, and Volvo Buses have launched the world’s first full size, autonomous electric bus.

This is a key milestone in NTU and Volvo’s development programme under the university’s partnership with the Land Transport Authority (LTA) to develop and conduct autonomous vehicle bus trials for fixed route and scheduled services, which was announced in October 2016.

The single-deck Volvo 7900 Electric bus is 12 metres long and has a full capacity close to 80 passengers. It also requires 80 per cent less energy than an equivalent sized diesel bus.

The bus comes with a Volvo Autonomous Research Platform software that is connected to key controls such as its navigation system, as well as multiple sensors. This includes light detection and ranging sensors (LIDARS), stereo-vision cameras that capture images in 3D, and a global navigation satellite system that uses real-time kinematics. This is like any global positioning system (GPS), but uses multiple data sources to give pin-point 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. According to NTU and Volvo, this will improve its navigation when going over uneven terrain and around sharp bends.

These sensors and GPS platforms will be managed by a AI system that was developed by NTU researchers. It not only operates the various sensors and GPS systems on the bus, but also enables it to navigate autonomously through dense traffic and tropical weather conditions.

For maximum safety and reliability, the AI system is protected with “industry-leading” cybersecurity and firewall measures to prevent unwanted intrusions.

The Volvo bus is the first of two that has undergone preliminary rounds of rigorous testing at the Centre of Excellence for Testing and Research of Autonomous vehicles at NTU (CETRAN), a centre dedicated to research and testing of autonomous vehicles. It replicates various elements of Singapore’s urban road condition, such as traffic signals, multiple bus stops and pedestrian crossings, and tropical conditions such as driving through heavy rain and partially flooded roads. Operated by NTU scientists, CETRAN is located on the NTU Smart Campus in the Jurong Innovation District.

While plans are in place to test the first bus on the NTU campus, a second autonomous 12-metre Volvo 7900 Electric bus will undergo tests at a bus depot managed by Singapore’s public transport operator, SMRT. This is part of the public trials which will determine the roadworthiness of autonomous vehicles on the road. It will provide a real-world environment to assess the vehicle’s ability to autonomously navigate into vehicle washing bays and park safely at charging areas.

Offering a charge power of 300kW via a pantograph mounted on the infrastructure, the fast chargers will recharge a battery in just three to six minutes. This will enable charging during the layover times at the end of the bus route, without impacting normal operations.