Volvo’s All-Electric Autonomous Bus Looks Slick on the Streets of Singapore

Volvo plans to send out robot-buses onto the roads of Singapore. The 36-seater 7900 model claims to be the world’s first fully autonomous bus that measures around 40 feet, beating previous mini-shuttles like the Las Vegas route. Its all-electric design also means it will use 80 percent less energy than an equivalent diesel bus.

“The world’s first 12-metre autonomous bus will shape the future of public transportation by promoting a transport system that is safe, efficient, reliable and comfortable for all commuters,” Subra Suresh, president of the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, which is partnering with Volvo on the project, said in a statement released Monday. “It will soon be tested on NTU’s Smart Campus, which has been a living testbed for autonomous vehicle technologies since 2012.”

The system uses lidar sensors, stereo vision cameras, and a satellite navigation system that Volvo describes as “like any GPS” that gives accuracy up to one centimeter using several data sources. This is combined with an interial management unit that uses a gyroscope and accelerometer to smooth out the ride, a key issue with something as large as a bus.

Volvo
No hands!

It’s a big step forward, and one that could represent the future of autonomous transport inside cities. Amos Haggiag, CEO of transit firm Optibus that helps run the Las Vegas autonomous shuttle, told Inverse in February 2018 that cities “will start to massively and probably aggressively favor mass transportation over taxis and private vehicles,” which could give rise to self-driving buses moving through congested central areas. Assaf Biderman, associate director of MIT’s Senseable City Lab, also told Inverse in May 2017 that city-dwellers will likely switch between car and bus as they travel in and out of a city, similar to today’s park-and-ride. Even Tesla CEO Elon Musk has expressed interest in making a bus.

Volvo
The bus' sensor.

Volvo’s bus has the capacity for 57 standing passengers, resulting in a total capacity of 93 people. The plan is to use the first bus on a short test route along the campus roads, gradually expanding to the outside of the university. A second bus will undergo tests at a bus depot operated by Singapore’s public transport agency SMRT, testing the vehicle’s capabilities at navigating washing bays and charging areas. The agency will help determine whether autonomous cars are completely ready for Singapore’s roads as part of the trial.

The bus in action.
The bus in action.

The bus is designed to charge using the HVC 300P system developed by charger firm ABB, which uses 300 kilowatts of power to replenish a bus battery in around three to six minutes. By comparison, a Tesla supercharger offers 120 kilowatts of power to charge a Model S sedan in around half an hour. The fast charging speeds enable the bus to get back on the road with little downtime.

Avoid the dummy.
Avoid the dummy.

With Volvo’s bus taking to the road, it may not be long before more city dwellers place their commutes in the hands of a robot.

Update 3/7 10:30 a.m. Eastern: An earlier version of this story described Optibus as a “Las Vegas autonomous shuttle developer.” It has since been corrected.

Polestar 2.
Media via Volvo