Volvo Will Test a Pair of Autonomous, Electric Bus Prototypes in Urban Singapore

Volvo claims these are the first buses of their kind to hit the road.

byStephen Edelstein|
Volvo Will Test a Pair of Autonomous, Electric Bus Prototypes in Urban Singapore

You've probably heard of autonomous cars, but what about autonomous buses? Volvo is launching a public trial of two prototype, autonomous, electric buses in Singapore. The Swedish firm (which is a separate entity from Volvo Cars) claims this is the first-ever test of full-size buses that are both autonomous and electric.

The prototype buses are based on the Volvo 7900 Electric model. Each bus is 12 meters (39 feet) and can carry about 80 passengers, according to Volvo. The first bus will operate on the campus of Nanyang Technological University (NTU) but Volvo hopes to operate the second bus out of a depot managed by SMRT, Singapore's public-transit operator.

To enable autonomous driving, each bus is equipped with an array of sensors including lidar and stereo cameras as well as a sophisticated navigation system. It's based on GPS but uses multiple data sources to give location accuracy up to one centimeter, according to Volvo. The buses also feature an "internal management unit," which Volvo says combines the functions of a gyroscope and accelerometer. It's meant to help the navigation system account for body movements as the buses go over uneven terrain, ensuring a smoother ride, Volvo claims.

Thanks to their electric powertrains, the buses require 80 percent less energy than equivalent size diesel buses, according to Volvo. The buses will apparently use a fast-charging system that can recharge their battery packs in three to six minutes. The company claims that will allow a full recharge during scheduled layover periods, so charging won't impact regular schedules.

With so much effort going into automating passenger cars and trucks, it's not surprising that Volvo is experimenting with autonomous buses. But even if autonomous driving proves to be too much, electric buses like the Volvo 7900 Electric could substantially reduce emissions, if they're deployed in large enough numbers.