Run by Comfort DelGro, backed by Inchcape, will be a major stepping stone for driverless buses and cars in future, CarBuyer takes a test ride
SINGAPORE – Singapore’s latest autonomous vehicle (AV) trial kicks off tomorrow at the National University of Singapore’s Kent Ridge campus.
The NUSmart Shuttle will begin passenger trials, carrying up to 12 people on a 1.6-km trip between Heng Mui Keng Terrace and Business Link that is free of charge to all passengers. It will run on weekdays from 1020h to 1120h, and 1420h and 1520h, at 20-minute intervals. The operating hours will be ‘progressively’ extended during the trial.
The shuttle will be fully autonomous although a ‘safety operator’ will be onboard during its journeys, and it will not operate in rainy conditions, though the official release states that a wet weather service may become available later on.
Behind the NUSmart Shuttle is a consortium of local business and educational entities:
Automotive distributor Inchcape Singapore, which distributes Toyota, Lexus, Hino and Suzuki vehicles here through subsidiaries Borneo Motors and Champion Motors, was responsible for funding the trial, importing the vehicle to Singapore, as well as obtaining regulatory approval.
NUS is the research partner and testing ground, while transport operator giant ComfortDelgro operates the service, providing the safety operator, charging, and other logistics.
The shuttle itself, the EZ10, is manufactured by French autonomous vehicle and software company EasyMile, which describes itself as ‘a pioneer in driverless technology and smart mobility solutions’, having already deployed ‘over 230 driverless projects with more than 320,000 people transported over 600,000km’.
As first reported on CarBuyer.com.sg, the shuttle has undergone 1.5-months of road testing prior to passenger trials, and the purpose of these trials is to gauge the commercial viability of an AV bus service.
CarBuyer Contributing Editor David Khoo bravely ventured his body for a test ride in the NUSmart Shuttle, and came away impressed, saying: “It drives smoothly, and it was able to react to traffic approaching, even far away from the junction we were at. It’s far more conservative than a human driver – but in this case it’s a good thing.”
Why is a company that focuses on selling cars to drivers delving into driverless cars?
“For Inchcape, we’re very proud to be able to help launch this trial and we find this collaboration very meaningful. It’s a good way for us to learn more of the hardware of the car, and this is a test pilot for us to be able to commercialise it on a bigger scale. And being an authorised distributor for key brands in Singapore, we’re in a strong position to be a part of this project for the hardware, and learning the programming, and process of how support future AVs,” ” said Managing Director of Inchcape Singapore, Ms Jasmmine Wong
So it’s a question of if, not when?
“For us it’s a way of preparing for the future. Because when we worked on it, we learnt about all the new regulations that come with, it’s invaluable, because in the next five to 10-years, AV’s will become a way of life and there’s a need for us to get accustomed to how these regulations work.
Secondly, supporting AVs will be another are, and for each AV it’s different in terms of software and electronics, so we will need to prepare so-called aftersales service and parts to support these types of vehicles for a future industry,” said Ms Wong.
Does that mean Toyota AVs are on the way?
“I can’t comment on our OEMs of course, but by contributing to things at this phase we can learn from it and get ready for it to come in future,” adds Ms Wong.
The question about AVs is not if they can, but if they’re legal to self-drive. How does this help?
“That’s why this project needs a combination of four different entities to come together as a consortium of sorts, because we need to lobby to get some real results. Putting an AV on the roads is a real result, there’s a proven set of data, and from there we are in a stronger position to lobby for better regulations,” said Ms Wong
We don’t work alone, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) is very keen on knowing what we’re doing just like when we conducted the e-scooter trials, they wanted to know all the challenges, issues, problems we faced, which we shared with them. It’s no different here, the university as an independent body has less restrictions on testing and researching things as opposed to an outside project. It’ll help policy makers like the LTA be involved and know what the direction is, it’s really a platform for them to understand AVs better,” said NUS Senior Vice-President for Campus Infrastructure and Professor of Civil Engineering, Mr Yong Kwet Kew.
When will everyone be able to take a bus ride – without a bus driver?
“At this stage we’re still in the testing phase, so we can’t give a definite answer yet. But this trial will provide invaluable operational experience which will very valuable for us in future, as all these vehicles become more widespread,” said Mr Goh Pin Kia, VP, Future Systems and Technology, ComfortDelGro