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Driverless buses coming soon? Firm step taken toward autonomous transport

LTA, EDB say several firms have responded to call for collaboration on driverless buses

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Singapore—Several companies have responded to the call from the Land Transport Authority (LTA) and the Economic Development Board (EDB) earlier in 2019 to collaborate on the deployment of driverless shuttles and buses.

The LTA and ERB did not specify what these companies are, but according to The Straits Times’ (ST) Sunday Times, the following are likely to be on the list: T , ComfortDelGro, SMRT, EasyMile, Nanyang Technological University and NuTonomy.

These firms have already been conducting trials on riderless vehicles. The ST gave the example of taxi company Comfort DelGro and EasyMile (a start-up from ) who have been operating a pilot service at the campus of the National University of Singapore (NUS) campus, while on Sentosa, ST Engineering is also running a similar trial service.

The Sunday Times report also makes mention of the fact that the ST Engineering, which is connected to the Government, signed a memorandum of agreement with BYD, a Chinese company that makes electrical vehicles, to develop platforms for driverless buses last March. It had already worked in the past with BYD with the development of the Strobo range of riderless platforms that handle equipment like pallet trucks and forklifts.

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In response to the call for the development of such autonomous vehicles, ST Engineering announced that it would be forming a consortium.

From as early as 2022, the driverless buses are to be deployed at Punggol, Tengah and the Jurong Innovation District, but during off-peak periods only. Bloomberg reports that a “mini-town” was built for the purpose of testing these driverless vehicles, which have intersections, stops, stop-and-go lights as well as crossing zones.

In answer to question from ST, the LTA and EDB said, “We are currently assessing the applications and are unable to disclose further details at this time.”

The agencies added that the collaboration deal is now in the “clarification stage”.

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However, an announcement may be made concerning more specifics on October 21-25 at the 26th Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress, some believe.

In the United States, Waymo, a company that manufactures riderless vehicles, is ready to begin services with cars that are ‘completely driverless’. This is scheduled to take place in Phoenix, Arizona.

In Singapore, autonomous vehicles are still accompanied by safety drivers, the ST report says.

Two years ago, when plans for the driverless bus service was first announced for the country, Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan said, ”The autonomous vehicles will greatly enhance the accessibility and connectivity of our public transport system, particularly for the elderly, families with young children and the less mobile.

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Our land transport constraints may help us become a global player in urban mobility solutions. What works here is likely to also work in other cities.”

Last month, however, an executive from Volvo said that it will take another 10 to 15 years before riderless vehicles will completely take over, but that the technology applied will be to drivers’ advantage. 

At Bloomberg’s Sooner Than You Think technology conference in Singapore in early september, Akash Passey, a senior vice-president at Volvo, the Swedish maker of buses and trucks, said, “Fatigue levels for drivers will improve with more autonomous applications added on to buses. Drivers will have less to do, which will mean they will be more focused on the road.”

In March, it was announced that Volvo’s autonomous buses, which can fit 80 people, would be piloted at the campus of the Nanyang Technological University (NTU). -/TISG

Read related: While LTA excited to launch new driverless bus trial, experts not so excited

While LTA excited to launch new driverless bus trial, experts not so excited

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