Riding on the country’s bid to become one of the first nations to launch autonomous bus services for public use, ST Engineering has launched its first series of test runs involving driverless buses last August 25.
During the week of the test, a number of external factors such as roaming peacocks, meandering tourists, and curbside bushes have posed as a challenge to the safety features and capabilities of the self-driving buses intended for public use in Singapore.
Autonomous Buses Pass Initial Test Run for Deployment in Singapore
The autonomous vehicles – comprising two minibuses and two smaller shuttles plied popular destinations along a 5.7km route on Sentosa island including Siloso Point, Beach Station, Palawan Beach, Tanjong Beach, and Sentosa Golf Club, as shared in a report by Channel News Asia.
The series of public trials, which will run until Nov 15, is being closely monitored by tech firms and automakers all over the world. The first of which was launched last August 26 following more than a year of testing to ensure that safety and emergency features are highly functional and responsive for the actual drive.
In a joint statement released by ST Engineering and the Transport Ministry, they emphasized that public safety takes top priority in any kind of technical situations they are dealing with.
According to Tan Nai Kwan, a chief robotics engineer at ST Engineering’s Land Systems arm, the test was “nerve-wracking”, but highlighted the safety precautions taken.
Among these measures include a human driver hovering over the self-rotating steering wheel, ready to snatch back control in an instant.
Furthermore, each shuttle has a vehicle fault system that will immediately alert the safety driver of any faults, and cede control of the vehicle to him.
Of note, these automated buses come with various technologies to help them sense their environment and identify appropriate navigation paths, obstacles, and signs. This helps them navigate traffic as well as handle a range of complex environments, such as roundabouts, among others.
According to Mr. Tan, the most “dangerous beasties” encountered so far were the roaming peacocks which fly unexpectedly into the road.
The trial service will operate for four hours every day on weekdays, from 10 am to 12 pm and from 2 pm to 4 pm. The shuttle buses will not be available during weekends and public holidays.
In 2016, a self-driving car being tested in Singapore collided with a truck as it was changing lanes. There were no injuries reported but similar accidents in the US have been fatal.
Exciting as this may seem for some, engineers and technical operators involved are keen on testing the system in various situations, circumstances, and environments prior to its official launch for public use by next year.