Land Transport Authority (LTA) has announced that it has signed a partnership agreement with ST Kinetics to develop and trial a driverless bus system 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.
LTA noted that this is the fourth such agreement signed, in addition to LTA’s ongoing partnerships with the Energy Research Institute @ NTU ([email protected]) to develop and trial autonomous bus technology, as well as with Delphi and nuTonomy to conduct autonomous mobility-on-demand trials.
“To encourage more people to walk, cycle and take public transport, we have to provide convenient, comfortable and efficient shared transport options for commuters,” LTA said.
LTA noted that this includes having 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,” it said.
LTA stated that ST Kinetics will develop and integrate the AV technologies onto two 40-seater electric buses that 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 to navigate autonomously.
The buses will also have radars and sonars that are able to detect other vehicles and pedestrians up to 200m ahead. In addition, 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.
LTA said that the three-and-a-half year project will see the autonomous buses being tested in various environments and it is working with stakeholders such as the National University of Singapore (NUS) as well as JTC to look at suitable trial locations, which can potentially include Jurong Island and NUS’ campus.
“The initial testing will be conducted during off-peak periods at an industrial area where the road infrastructure is less complex. As the autonomous buses are gradually equipped with more advanced capabilities, they will be progressively introduced to more complex trial sites,” the Authority said.
LTA added that 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 of 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,” it said.
LTA’s Chief Technology Officer, Mr Lam Wee Shann, 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,” he added.
In 2016, four bus operators competitively raised the salaries of bus drivers to attract them to join the fleet. UK-based bus operator Go-Ahead, which has been operating since September from the Loyang bus routes announced that it would be raising its minimum monthly starting salary for Singaporeans and PRs to $1,950, an increase from $1,865 that was announced in February last year.
Other bus operators such as the London-based Tower Transit also upped the basic salary of their Bus Captains to $1,930, an increase from $1,865. SBS Transit drivers have a basic pay of $1,950, an increase from $1,775 and SMRT bus drivers have a basic salary of $1,625. In February last year, SMRT said it would raise its drivers’ pay so that it would be on par with the rest of the market.
Reports late last year reflected that certain bus operators, such as Go-Ahead Singapore took in short-term contract hires from fellow bus operators to cope with a shortage of bus drivers.