Volvo and Singapore university team to launch first autonomous electric bus

Volvo unveils an electric autonomous bus in conjunction with Singapore University
Photo: Volvo

On March 5, Volvo Cars and Nanyang Technical University (NTU) began testing a groundbreaking new EV they developed together. The Volvo 7900 Electric is a single deck bus that has 36 seats and can transport 80 passengers. The bus’ artificial intelligence program uses light detection and ranging sensors, 3D cameras, and GPS data for location accuracy up to 1 cm.

Volvo and NTU also equipped their full-sized driverless electric bus, the first vehicle of its type, with cutting-edge gyroscopes and accelerometers. These improvements give the vehicle the ability to execute tight turns and to operate on different kinds of terrain.

The 7900 Electric has been in development since early 2018 and its creation is part of a broader initiative to bring autonomous transit to Singapore. To that end, the Singapore government created a 2-hectare driverless vehicle testing range that includes stoplights, pedestrian crossings, and intersections.

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A Promising Start for the Bus Version of KITT

It appears that the 7900 did well in its initial round of testing. The electric bus came to a complete stop after detecting a pedestrian in its path and successfully backed into a parking space. It was also able to drive to a bus stop and pick up passengers. Future tests will include simulated heavy rain and flooding to mirror Singapore’s natural tropical climate.

In a press release, NTU said that the bus’ AI is protected with “industry-leading” firewalls and cybersecurity tools. A public transportation operator is at the helm of the bus during the testing phase to monitor the bus’ functionality and take control if necessary.

Once the 7900 completes its test range trials, it will be used on the NTU campus and nearby roads. If all goes well, Volvo’s autonomous electric bus will serve Singaporean commuters starting in 2022.

The Environmentally Friendly Way to Travel

While the most impressive aspect of the 7900 is its autonomous capability, it’s also a pretty fantastic electric vehicle. The bus has zero emissions and uses 80 percent less energy than its diesel-powered counterparts. Supported by a 300kW charging system, the bus only needs 3 to 6-minute layoffs in between completing routes.

If the 7900 Electric makes the grade, its impact on air quality in Asia could be massive. Late last year, the United Nations reported air pollution kills 4 million people living in Asia annually. As buses are the preferred mode of mass transit for 34 percent of people living in Southeast Asia, an EV revolution in the region could save hundreds of thousands of lives every year.

Asia is not the only part of the world that could benefit from a mass transition to electric transportation. Air toxicity causes the premature death of approximately 400,000 Europeans every year. And the EPA estimates that transportation is responsible for 20 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.

Having fewer cars and more electric buses on the road is a good thing for the planet and humanity. Given the company’s track record and reach, there’s a good reason to believe that Volvo can be the Tesla of mass transit.