Developed with Singapore’s NTU, the electric bus is able to accommodate 85 passengers and consumes 80% less energy than equivalent diesel-powered vehicles.
By Murray Slovick, Contributing Editor
Sweden’s Volvo Buses and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) have unveiled a full-size (12-meter) autonomous electric bus for testing on the university campus.
The 85-passenger Volvo 7900 Electric bus is equipped with sensors and navigation controls that are managed by a comprehensive artificial-intelligence (AI) system developed by NTU researchers. The AI system also comes with cybersecurity and firewall measures to safeguard against potential security threats.
According to Volvo, the bus requires 80% less energy to operate than an equivalent diesel-powered bus.
The bus is equipped with Volvo’s autonomous research platform that’s integrated with key controls and multiple sensors, including light detection and ranging sensors (LiDAR), 360-degree stereo cameras that can capture images in 3D, and a global navigation satellite system that uses real-time kinematics. This is similar to any other global positioning system (GPS), but uses multiple data sources to provide location accuracy up to one centimeter.
The bus also has an inertial management unit that can measure the vehicle’s lateral and angular rates. NTU said this helps improve navigation when the vehicle is on uneven terrains or moves around sharp bends. Information from the sensors is used to navigate the vehicle and to prevent incidents and accidents by identifying objects approaching the bus, adjusting its speed accordingly or stopping the bus.
Electric-vehicle charging technology vendor ABB developed a fast-charging system for the bus. According to ABB, the system was able to recharge a battery in three to six minutes.
The autonomous bus is programmed to accelerate and brake gently and smoothly when starting off and stopping. At bus stops, the bus always stops in exactly the same position, with the same gap between the bus and the platform for convenient entry and exit.
Tests and Demos
The vehicle previously had completed preliminary rounds of tests at NTU’s Centre of Excellence for Testing and Research of Autonomous Vehicles. Located on the NTU campus, the test center emulates Singapore’s urban road conditions, such as traffic signals, multiple bus stops and pedestrian crossings, and weather conditions such as driving through heavy rain and partially flooded roads. When the tests are completed and after regulatory approvals, the vehicle will operate on public roads.
This is Volvo’s first autonomous fully electric bus in public transportation. Volvo Group has previously demonstrated autonomous vehicles for mining and refuse operations. The single-deck bus is part of a program under Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) to develop and run driverless bus trials for fixed routes and scheduled services.
A second Volvo 7900 autonomous bus will be tested at a bus depot operated by SMRT, Singapore’s public transport company, which will assess the vehicle’s ability to autonomously navigate into vehicle washing bays and park safely at charging areas. The transport operator also will evaluate the ability of autonomous vehicles to run safely on public roads.
Singapore aims to deploy autonomous buses on public roads in three different districts starting in 2022.