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Feature

Look ma, no driver! NTU’s futuristic buses and where to hitch a ride on them

NTU’s drive towards becoming Singapore’s Smart Campus is breaking new ground in the area of public transportation. Get acquainted with the convoy of driverless and electric buses undergoing trials around campus that NTU students will be among the first to try
by Amin Shah

The big Swede

What: Volvo driverless electric bus, possibly the first of its kind in the world

Capacity: 40 seated passengers (with room for standing)

Special features: Its fully electric engine is emission-free and consumes 80% less energy than diesel buses. No driver? No problem. The bus navigates via GPS and uses multiple laser sensors to detect obstacles far away. In the works is a system that integrates automated steering, gear-changing and speed-throttling technologies.

PHOTO: VOLVO

How it juices up: It is charged wirelessly via an overhead charging arm that provides up to 300kW of charging power in three to six minutes.

Where it has been used before: The non-driverless version of the Volvo bus plies the streets of Gothenburg, Sweden, and Luxembourg.

When and where you can catch it: Two of these buses will be sent to NTU by early next year for testing at the autonomous vehicle testing centre. You’ll need to be on the lookout for them as they are completely silent on the move.

The French lady

What: Arma

Capacity: 15 passengers (11 seated; four standing)

Special features: Designed by French transport company Navya SAS, this fully driverless and electric mini-bus provides maximum passenger safety with four on-board cameras and eight light sensors, two of which provide 360-degree detection. It is also equipped with GPS and 3G communication systems for real-time monitoring and navigation. Don’t be shocked if the vehicle starts moving in reverse as it can drive in both directions.

PHOTO: AMIN SHAH

Top speed: 45km per hour

Where it has been used before: Lyon, France, and Michigan, United States

When and where you can catch it: The Arma has been undergoing tests around the campus since late 2016, and you might have spotted it near The Hive or at the residential halls at North Hill. It will start ferrying students next year.

The flash

What: Ultra fast-charging NTU-Blue Solutions Flash Shuttle

Capacity: 22 passengers

Special features: Singapore’s first flash-charging electric shuttle behaves like the trams of yesteryear in being able to run continuously without the need for offline charging. It only takes 20 seconds to recharge at stations while passengers board and alight, thanks to its special batteries known as “supercapacitors”. It can travel up to 2km on a single charge, and has a backup battery catering for an additional 30km.

PHOTO: LESTER KOK

Top speed: 40km per hour

How it juices up: A telescopic connector extends like a feeler at each stop to charge the shuttle.

When and where you can catch it: The shuttle will be tested between the North Hill residential halls and JTC’s CleanTech One after June this year. If you’re lucky, you can hop on for a ride during the trial runs.

The magnetic one

PHOTOS: SMRT

What: The GRT by SMRT and 2GetThereAsia

Capacity: 24 passengers (eight seated; 16 standing)

Special features: You’re not seeing things – this silent roadster looks like it’s floating above the ground, but it’s actually not. The GRT uses magnetic pellets on the road for autonomous navigation and, like the Arma, it can travel both directions. It is designed to act like a “horizontal lift”, picking up passengers on demand via the interactive mobility-as-a-service app, Jalan2, which has information on first-and-last-mile transport options in NTU such as bicycle-sharing and e-scooter services.

Top speed: 40km per hour

Where it has been used before: In a small business park in the city of Capelle aan den IJssel in the Netherlands and its main Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. A smaller version has been used in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi.

When and where you can catch it: Since February, the GRT has been plying a route between Halls 12 and 15. It will undergo further trials around the rest of the campus after its official unveiling this month.