The Path Ahead for Public Transport

Shared autonomous buses are key to making public transport safer, connected and more sustainable for the future, says Mr Tan Kian Wee, Head of Programme Development, Autonomous Solutions at ST Engineering. 

Led by its Smart City business, the global technology, defence and engineering group has spearheaded several autonomous bus trials in Singapore and overseas, including Singapore’s first autonomous transport revenue service in 2021.

With autonomous buses that can be deployed on demand, public transport operators can optimise resources and reduce unnecessary trips that are carried out by fixed-route services.

Such buses offering transport services through a Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) model may also be ideal for areas with too little demand to make fixed-route services economically viable.

By reducing the need for drivers, autonomous vehicles (AVs) can also help to remove the human bottleneck from public transport operations.

Even in cases where employees are needed on board, freeing them from driving duties enables them to better serve commuters.

In environments where fully driverless operations are possible, AVs can function around the clock and provide enhanced mobility options where none previously exists.

Furthermore, with human error as the cause of most traffic accidents, switching to autonomous transport can boost pedestrian and passenger safety. The overall transport ecosystem is also improved because of fewer traffic disruptions and less resulting congestion, leading to a more pleasant travel experience for commuters.

With these benefits, shared autonomous transport has the potential to revolutionise urban mobility by making it more accessible, affordable, and environmentally friendly, Mr Tan said.

“When well-integrated into the public transport system, shared autonomous transport will transform the mobility landscape and encourage more people to make the change from private vehicles to public transport.”

With driverless vehicles, safety remains a key aspect to widespread social acceptance.

Being at the forefront of shared autonomous transport, ST Engineering leverages its deep engineering expertise to develop AV kits that enable autonomous buses to navigate safely in complex urban conditions.

Through trials and other means, ST Engineering aims to collect more real-world
data to support future commercial autonomous bus rollouts locally and overseas

“We subject our systems to rigorous in-house and external testing as well as in virtual simulated environments, and work with partners in the AV ecosystem through a collaborative build-test-deploy approach to deliver a safe and smooth travel experience for passengers and other road users,” Mr Tan said.

In 2015, ST Engineering debuted an on-demand autonomous shuttle service in Singapore and has since been a key player in developing the AV ecosystem locally and internationally.

“We have expanded to other pilots and trials in countries such as Japan, Australia, and Israel, shared Mr Tan.

“In these deployments, we collaborated closely with industry and local regulatory partners to ensure that our autonomous transport solutions met the mobility needs of the local communities.”

“These overseas experiences provided us valuable insights into deployments under varying traffic environments and autonomous vehicle deployment requirements.”

In 2021, ST Engineering was the AV Bus Consortium and Programme Lead for two autonomous bus services in a deployment driven by industry participants and spearheaded by the Emerging Stronger Taskforce’s Alliance for Action on Robotics.

Taking place at the Singapore Science Park 2 and Jurong Island, the autonomous bus trials were the first-of-its-kind revenue service in Singapore.

ST Engineering aims to collect more real-world data to support future commercial autonomous bus rollouts locally and overseas.

Mr Tan noted: “Many cities have started to examine how automated driving could solve existing deficiencies in urban transportation.

“While no city has yet implemented a fully operational autonomous transport system, many trials are in place. We expect more cities to have them in the coming years.”

Original article published on page 17-18 in RIE News May Issue by the National Research Foundation Singapore.


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