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The Irish Times - Thursday - Property - - Tech on Wheels -

In the race to de­ploy driver­less pub­lic trans­port, Sin­ga­pore has built a mini town that could vault it into pole po­si­tion.

The 2-hectare com­plex, un­veiled in Novem­ber, has in­ter­sec­tions, traf­fic lights, bus stops and pedes­trian cross­ings, all built to the spec­i­fi­ca­tions that Sin­ga­pore uses for its pub­lic roads. There’s a mini-hill to check how ve­hi­cle sen­sors per­form when they can’t see di­rect- ly ahead, mock skyscrap­ers to mimic the ra­dio in­ter­fer­ence from tall build­ings, and a rain ma­chine to sim­u­late the is­land’s fre­quent trop­i­cal down­pours.

The ad­van­tage f or t he city-state is that the test cir­cuit – and the in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by com­pa­nies vy­ing to put driver­less buses on Sin­ga­pore’s streets – is help­ing it build an un­ri­valled database of in­for­ma­tion on the challenges and so­lu­tions that would al­low the gov­ern­ment to in­tro­duce the tech­nol­ogy safely.

“We’re prob­a­bly the only coun­try that’s look­ing at this in such a pro-ac­tive and sys­tem­atic way,” says Lee Chuan Teck, former deputy sec­re­tary at the Min­istry of Trans­port. “What we’re look­ing at is ac­tu­ally de­ploy­ing reg­u­la­tions.”

Lee says the data be­ing gath­ered should al­low the gov­ern­ment to draft reg­u­la­tions for au­tonomous ve­hi­cles by the sec­ond half of this year. The na­tion’s small size, ad­vanced road in­fra­struc­ture and highly regu- lated traf­fic sys­tem make it an ideal petri dish for com­pa­nies that are de­vel­op­ing driver­less sys­tems.

There are now more than 10 com­pa­nies test­ing ve­hi­cles at the fa­cil­ity at Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity in the west of Sin­ga­pore, says Niels de Boer, pro­gramme di­rec­tor for Fu­ture Mo­bil­ity So­lu­tions at the univer­sity. Two buses from Volvo AB will join them early next year and more are com­ing, he says.

Con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment

With so many haz­ards and in­ter­sec­tions on the route, the speed limit at the site is about 20 to 25kmh. De Boer says that they want to see what hap­pens un­der a “con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment”.

Seven 360-de­gree cam­eras stream live video to the Land Trans­port Author­ity’s In­tel­li­gent Trans­port Sys­tems Cen­tre down­town. To­gether with in­for­ma­tion col­lected from the ve­hi­cles, the gov­ern­ment is build­ing a database that will al­low it to eval­u­ate whether EVs are ready for pub­lic roads and how they should be de­ployed.

Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Univer­sity is test­ing a 15-pas­sen­ger driver­less minibus built by French com­pany Navya SAS, which re­searchers can op­er­ate us­ing the au­tonomous soft­ware, or man­u­ally via a video-game style hand­set.

On a re­cent, hot morn­ing, it trun­dled round the course with air-con­di­tion­ing on full, cut­ting its seven-hour battery life in half. The bus nav­i­gated lanes, halted in front of a way­ward pedest r i a n in t he road and stopped at bus shel­ters to col­lect and de­liver pas­sen­gers, though some func­tions, such as mov­ing off at traf­fic lights, still had to be man­u­ally ini­ti­ated.

On one oc­ca­sion, it made an Seven 360° cam­eras stream live video from the mini town at Nanyang Univer­sity emer­gency stop for some un­seen ob­sta­cle, throw­ing pas­sen­gers onto the floor.

The only place the bus didn’t go was the rain sim­u­la­tor, which de Boer says wasn’t work­ing af­ter be­ing dam­aged in a re­cent thun­der­storm. So far, ve­hi­cles tested in the rain ma­chine hadn’t per­formed well, ac­cord­ing to staff on site. In about 70 per cent of cases, the sen­sors on the ve­hi­cles were un­able to op­er­ate suc­cess­fully.

A Navya SAS au­tonomous elec­tric pas­sen­ger bus on the test cir­cuit at the Nanyang Tech­nol­ogy Univer­sity in Sin­ga­pore last week.

The univer­sity’s test bus may not be the most so­phis­ti­cated ex­per­i­men­tal au­tonomous ve­hi­cle in use, but it did demon­strate that driver­less ve­hi­cles still have many ob­sta­cles to over­come. While the use of AI means that the ma­chines will learn rapidly from their er­rors, the real les­son from the test park is the need for a so­phis­ti­cated in­fra­struc­ture out­side the ve­hi­cles.

In­fra­struc­ture

“In­fra­struc­ture will be­come more im­por­tant,” says de Boer. “It’s not enough to know where the ve­hi­cle is.” Op­er­a­tors and traf­fic of­fi­cials must also mon­i­tor many other pos­si­ble events – an el­derly pas­sen­ger fall­ing down inside a bus, an un­usu­ally large queue at a bus stop, break­downs and other events.

Sin­ga­pore’s ef­forts to cer­tify driver­less pub­lic trans­port could put it in the lead for au­tonomous buses as more com­pa­nies bring ve­hi­cles to NTU’s test track.

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