By Tan Jun Yi and Nicholas Teo
17 April 2018
With Telepod scooters, oBikes, buses and – of course – cars, crisscrossing the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) campus, transport options in NTU seem mildly endless. As part of the Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) testbed, the Group Rapid Transit (GRT) system is currently being introduced in NTU, adding yet another option of transport to NTU’s transportation landscape.
This was formalised in a signing ceremony on Monday (16 April) that hosted representatives from NTU, SMRT Corporation and the Dutch transit system company, 2getthere.
Photo: Nanyang Technological University
Group Rapid Transit (GRT) Autonomous Vehicles
On 16 April, a Memorandum of Understanding between NTU, SMRT Services and 2getthere B.V. was signed. New developments were outlined with regard to the deployment of fully automated Group Rapid Transit (GRT) autonomous vehicles around NTU’s campus. An update on the MaaS testbed, incorporating the official roll out of the Jalan² app, was also announced at the event.
The deployment of the fully automated GRT autonomous vehicles within the NTU campus is slated for 2019. This will be the first operational system of autonomous vehicles in Singapore. Trials for operations of the GRT autonomous vehicles have been running in NTU since November last year, and current trials are slated for expansion over phases in the coming months, beginning in Q4 of 2018.
The GRT autonomous vehicles currently ply a short 350 metre route in the region of Hall 12 and 13. The routes on trial will grow to encompass service routes between the halls of residences and the South Academic Complex (South Spine), with a daily service capacity of 200 to 300 passengers.
NTU President, Prof Subra Suresh, emphasised the role of the GRT as a “first-and-last-mile connectivity solution as it acts as a ‘horizontal lift’,” taking its place amongst the variety of first-and-last-mile transport options in NTU.
The coordinating stakeholders will also undertake efforts in research and development in conjunction with the rollout of the GRT. “The collaboration also involves research and development in the areas of artificial intelligence, advanced sensors and fleet management technologies,” SMRT Corp CEO Mr Desmond Kuek outlined, in his speech at the signing event.
The signing event took place following a demonstration of the GRT Autonomous Vehicle (AV) at Hall 12.
Photo: Nanyang Technological University
With a capacity for 24 people, the GRT Autonomous Vehicles have been operating on a route along Hall 12 for the past 4 months, undergoing safety tests as the 2019 deployment approaches.
With safety concerns in mind, Edward Lim, NTU Students’ Union President and a Year 3 Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering student, expressed his opinion that “the service providers… have a responsibility to ensure that their systems are well-updated, their AI is well-programmed to detect anomalies, and prevent any accidents.”
The GRT autonomous vehicles are monitored by cameras built into each vehicle, with a manual mode enabling the vehicle to manoeuvre 45-degree angle turns to move into berths, for smoother boarding. Multiple sensors are built into the system, including long range sensors that detect obstacles from 200 – 250 metres, and sonic sensors for near field detection.
MaaS Trials (‘jalan²’)
In addition, trials of the Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) testbed have integrated the multiple transport modes available in NTU in a single app, termed jalan-jalan (more commonly known to students simply as ‘jalan‘). Developed by mobilityX, an SMRT-backed startup, the jalan² app has been relatively well-received amongst users in NTU and JTC’s CleanTech Park. The Telepod e-scooters have proved to be particularly popular, with approximately 1000 daily trips, and a total of 67000 trips, booked since last August.
‘Plan, book and pay’ are the guiding principles of the Jalan² app, where students will be able to do all three within a single app, personalised to the individual, even as plans to enlarge the number of partners are explored.
NTU President Subra Suresh added, “By seamlessly integrating multiple modes of transport, it resolves the first and last mile problem for commuters by generating a single and complete travelling plan,” to and from one’s starting point and destination.
At a media brief before the signing ceremony, the Telepod e-scooters, in particular, were also feted as a well-utilised alternative mode of transport that supplements the existing shuttle buses for getting around campus. Use of the e-scooters were observed from data even during non-operating hours of the shuttle buses (at night).
The myriad options for transport in NTU continue to diversify in concert with NTU’s Smart Campus initiative and Singapore’s Smart Nation movement. The introduction of the GRT autonomous vehicles and the growing use of the Jalan² app look set to make transport for students within NTU more convenient, and seamless. The time and effort saved with ongoing improvements and additions to the transport experience would go quite some way in enhancing the campus and student experience of NTU.