National University of Singapore begins trial of driverless passenger shuttles

The NUSmart Shuttle will operate from Mondays to Fridays at 20-minute intervals two hours each day during the initial phase of the trial. Each trip will span 1.6km. Image courtesy of NUS.

After 1.5 months of road testing, the fully autonomous NUSmart Shuttle has started passenger service at the National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Kent Ridge campus. This trial is part of a year-long study aimed at gauging the commercial viability of providing safe autonomous shuttle bus services.

The NUSmart Shuttle, an EasyMile EZ10 autonomous shuttle, runs entirely on electricity and carries up to 12 people. The service will be free to all commuters. During the initial phase of the trial, the shuttle will not operate when it rains to enable the vehicle to calibrate its internal systems. A wet weather service may be available at a later stage.

The NUSmart Shuttle is able to accommodate a wheelchair and has an in-built access ramp for mobility challenged passengers. During the year-long trial, a Safety Operator will be on board when the shuttle is on the move to address enquires from commuters and to ensure safe operation of the vehicle.

Operating along a predefined route, the shuttle is equipped with a full range of sensors to detect and avoid potential obstacles. It relies on its own internal array of software and hardware technologies for its navigation on the roads, without any assistance from external infrastructure. Harnessing the latest developments in robotics and Artificial Intelligence, the EasyMile EZ10 autonomous shuttle is the most widely deployed autonomous shuttle in the world with over 230 deployments in more than 26 countries.

The trial, which is also in line with NUS’ ongoing efforts to build a smart, safe and sustainable campus, is the first autonomous shuttle bus to be operated by a land transport operator in real mixed traffic conditions, alongside regular buses, cars and motorcycles. Funded and imported by Inchcape Singapore, which also provides technical expertise on vehicle type approval, the NUSmart Shuttle will be operated by ComfortDelGro’s wholly-owned subsidiary, ComfortDelGro Bus Pte Ltd.

ComfortDelGro Managing Director and Group CEO, Mr Yang Ban Seng, said: “This passenger service trial provides us with an opportunity to observe how passengers respond to an autonomous vehicle. The operational experience gained will also be invaluable as we prepare for a future where autonomous and artificial intelligence becomes an integral part of our daily commute.”

EasyMile Business Development & Partnership Manager for Asia Pacific, Mr Alexandre Pequignot, said: “As a pioneer in autonomous vehicle technologies, EasyMile is proud to support its partners in testing the integration of our autonomous shuttle for public transportation. We have supported more than 230 deployments worldwide in various environments and this project will give us more insights for future deployments in Singapore.”

Managing Director, Inchcape Singapore, Ms Jasmmine Wong, said: “As a leading automotive distributor, we are constantly learning, innovating and staying abreast of future mobility developments. This initiative allows us to remain at the forefront of autonomous mobility solutions and turn them into a commercial reality in the near future.”

NUS Senior Vice President (Campus Infrastructure) Professor Yong Kwet Yew said: “Autonomous vehicles have great potential as a promising mobility solution. NUS is pleased to host the autonomous shuttle trial on the Kent Ridge campus, which will involve our staff, students and visitors. The knowledge and experience gained from this trial will bring us closer to the day when autonomous vehicles become a common safe mode of transport, and with citizens who are comfortable with embracing new technologies, we can then further entrench Singapore’s standing as a smart nation.”