A two-year trial of an eight-seater driverless shuttle, the Navia, has begun in Singapore. The vehicle, the result of a seven-year, $10 million project by the French technology company Induct, is programmed to travel on pre-programmed routes on speeds of up to 12.4mph (20.1 km/h) using a lithium-ion battery that lasts around 10 hours. It will transport passengers between Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the CleanTech Park, two kilometres away.
Singapore uses a congestion tax and a Vehicle Quota System to keep traffic to a minimum. In 2010, it had 223 vehicles per kilometre of road – ranking fourth in the world for congestion, just behind Hong Kong. A Certificate of Entitlement (CEO) is needed to own a vehicle and use the roads for a period of 10 years, which can cost between $50,000 and $75,000. Although this makes owning a vehicle difficult and expensive, this hasn’t decreased their desirability. In the long term Singapore needs mobility solutions like the Navia that are both attractive and energy efficient – especially if it wants to establish itself as a major global smart city.
During the trial the Energy Research Institute at NTU will review the vehicle’s ability to safely manoeuvre between traffic in Singapore, with a view to solving the “first mile, last mile” problem of commuters travelling to and from transport stations and across campuses and airports. The vehicles’ intelligence systems reassess their environment every tenth of a second and have no blind spots. “So far the technology hasn’t failed”, says Max Lefèvre, VP of marketing for Induct. “It’s very reliable.”
Leased as a service, rather than sold as a product, Induct estimates the costs are 30-50% cheaper than a regular shuttle system. They currently have the capability to build one shuttle a week and set-up is easy – only one Navia is needed to drive the route to create a map of the environment. This can then be used to programme other vehicles, and on each journey updated maps are created.
Singapore’s Ministry of Transport has invested $17.8 billion in improving the country’s wider public transport network, building two more subway lines, 37 more train stations and a five-kilometre expressway over the last five years. But Navia could have one big advantage over other forms of these other forms of travel. As Ivana Gazibara, Head of SE Asia, Forum for the Future, says: “The main motivation for driverless technology is that it essentially gives you back useful time while allowing you to maintain personal space.” – Lizzie Rivera