Back to story

Speech by NTU President at the launch of the world's first 12-metre fully electric autonomous bus

Speech by

Professor Subra Suresh
President, Nanyang Technological University 

Launch of the World’s First
 12-metre Fully Electric Autonomous Bus

Centre of Excellence for Testing & Research of Autonomous Vehicles NTU (CETRAN)

 CleanTech Heights, Singapore 637141
Tuesday, 5 March 2019, 10:00 am

His Excellency Niclas Kvarnström, Sweden Ambassador to Singapore 
Mr Håkan Agnevall, President of the Volvo Bus Corporation
Mr Goh Teck Seng, Deputy Chief Executive of the Land Transport Authority 
Mr P V Venkatesan, Director of SMRT
Mr Wai Tai Yeap, Vice President of ABB

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, 

Good morning, and welcome to NTU. 

Global trend in autonomous vehicles

Autonomous vehicles or AVs are increasingly viewed as a game-changing technology that will revolutionise the transportation industry. Many countries are already hopping on the bandwagon and conducting live testing. For example, the Chinese government has granted a license to allow autonomous cars to be tested on public roads in Beijing, while in the United States, more than fifty companies are testing AV technologies in California alone. 

Singapore’s focus on the research and development of AV technologies has also caught the world’s attention. In a study by KPMG released last month, Singapore was ranked among the top in a list of different countries for their readiness for AV technologies. 

This was bolstered by two factors – first, the introduction of an amendment to Singapore’s Road Traffic Act in 2017, which allowed AVs to be tested on public roads. And secondly, the availability of a comprehensive test centre for AVs known as CETRAN, which is operated by NTU researchers. We are currently holding this event in CETRAN.

Coupled with excellent infrastructure and really forward government planning, Singapore has many exciting plans for AVs to be integrated in our transport network in the coming years.

NTU’s journey in autonomous vehicle technologies

Most of you already know that NTU is no stranger to AV technologies. Several years ago, NTU tested the Navya electric shuttle, and autonomous mini-buses and tram-like shuttles around our campus. These are part of NTU’s Smart Campus vision, where we harness the power of digital and advanced technologies to improve the way people live, work and play.

Unveiling the world’s first 12 metre fully electric autonomous bus

NTU last year partnered with Volvo to further develop autonomous bus technologies. Founded in Sweden in 1927, Volvo has been at the forefront transportation innovation, and for decades it has maintained a solid position as the world leader in commercial transportation technology.

It has been a year since NTU and Volvo started the journey and today, we are extremely pleased to unveil the fully electric autonomous bus - a full-sized bus that's 12 metres long. Using Volvo’s 12-metre long electric bus, NTU researchers have developed cutting-edge technologies which enables it to operate autonomously.

The bus is equipped with numerous sensors such as Light Detection and Ranging sensors, otherwise known as LIDARS for short, and a special GPS system that uses multiple data sources to give pin-point location accuracy. It is also includes an inertial measurement unit, which improves navigation when going over uneven terrain and around sharp bends. Those of you who took the test drive this morning would know that such a long and big bus can make sharp turns. I used to drive a Volvo car, and Volvo cars are known for making very tight, sharp turns.

Our researchers have also installed customised sensor fusion technologies that can operate in various traffic and weather conditions. This will enable the bus to respond to different urban scenarios especially in Singapore’s tropical setting. All of these are enhanced with an artificial intelligence (AI) system and cybersecurity measures to ensure maximum safety and reliability.

Providing a quiet operation with zero emissions, the bus has gone through rigorous testing at Gothenberg in Sweden and right here at the CETRAN autonomous vehicle test centre. These trials replicate various elements of Singapore’s urban road condition such as traffic signals, multiple bus stops and pedestrian crossings, and especially its tropical conditions such as driving through heavy rain and partially flooded roads. The bus is now ready to be tested on designated test routes. As a first step, the bus will be tested under controlled conditions to gather further information and to refine the technology on the roads within the NTU campus and plans are in place to extend this out of campus in parntership with SMRT and LTA, along with Volvo buses following themselves on tests and trials that are to take place in the coming months and years.

Strong government and industry support

Today’s milestone is made possible by the strong support from the Land Transport Authority, and two other very important leading multinational companies. First, we partnered with Singapore’s multi-modal land transport provider, SMRT, to help ensure the relevance of the research taking place on our campus to Singapore’s needs. One of the two autonomous electric buses will be trialled at one of SMRT’s depots to test its ability to park and charge autonomously. 

Second, we also partnered with ABB, a top technology leader that oversees the electric charging abilities of the vehicle. ABB’s fast-charging station based on the OppCharge interface, is very well suited for autonomous charging solutions in bus depots as well as in running traffic. The charging station can provide 300 kilowatts of charging power in three to six minutes, during the layover times at the bus route’s end points.

NTU’s research excellence and industry partnerships

These industry connections and partnerships are essential in ensuring that academic research remains practical, relevant, and beneficial to industry and society. In just over a year, we have established strong partnerships with a number of leading companies to address the future needs of the transport industry.

For example, just a few months ago, we launched the SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Lab with SMRT. The aim is to explore technology-driven solutions to build an even more resilient and reliable urban rail system to support Singapore’s vision towards a car-lite future. Both NTU and SMRT also joined forces with 2getthere, a Dutch company based in Utrecht specialising in autonomous transit systems, to deploy fully automated Group Rapid Transit (GRT) AVs on the NTU Smart Campus. 

NTU also partnered BlueSG, a subsidiary of Blue Solutions owned by French transportation giant Bolloré Group and launched Singapore’s first flash-charging electric shuttle. Named the NTU-Blue Solutions Flash Shuttle, the fully electric vehicle requires only 20 seconds to recharge at stations while passengers board and alight.

Closing Remarks

Today’s historic launch would not be possible without the strong support from our global partners, the Singapore government and long-range planning by NTU faculty and staff, by government agencies, by industry partners. 

I would very much like to thank our partners, Volvo, SMRT, ABB, and LTA, for their immense support, collaboration and friendship in this exciting initiative. I would like to thank Mr Goh Teck Seng from LTA, Mr Håkan Agnevall from Volvo Bus Corporation, Mr P V Venkatesan from SMRT, Mr Wai Tai Yeap from ABB, for working together with NTU to push the boundaries of innovation. 

I extend my profound gratitude and congratulations to NTU faculty, staff, and researchers for their dedication, achievments, hard work. In particular, I would like to thank the leaders of this project, Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar, especially Dr Anshuman Tripathi, and all their colleagues and team members, CETRAN, ERIAN and other engineers across campus, and students and staff who have worked very hard at this; VP of Research Professor Lam Khin Yong's leadership role in these efforts. I thank all of them for their exceptional efforts in making this project a huge success.

In closing, I am confident that the autonomous electric bus project will not only help shape the future of public transportation, but one day, support Singapore’s transport system that is safe, efficient, reliable and comfortable for all commuters. 

Thank you.