On 3rd March 2019, Volvo Electric Buses and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU) launched Volvo 7900, the world’s first full size, autonomous electric bus. The single deck electric bus is 12 meters long and has a full capacity of 80 passengers. The autonomous electric bus is equipped with Global Positioning System, numerous sensors, stereo video cameras for recording the surround view, and navigation controls managed by a comprehensive artificial intelligence.
NTU’s Energy Research Institute has collaborated with ABB, one of the leaders in developing fast charging infrastructure, to develop a smart fast charging solution for this autonomous electric bus. Offering a charge power of 300kW via a pantograph mounted on the infrastructure, the fast chargers will recharge the batteries in 3-6 minutes. This will enable the operator to recharge the batteries without hampering the normal operation. The zero-emission vehicle will require 80% less energy than its diesel counterpart.
MarketsandMarkets™ View Point:
Abhishek Deshpande - Senior Research Analyst : Automotive & Transportation Research at MarketsandMarkets™, shares his Point of View as mentioned below:
According to MarketsandMarkets™ analysis, this initiative of Volvo Buses has the potential to transform the global public transport system and can create new opportunities for urban planning.
The growth of BEV in the electric commercial vehicle market is expected to grow mainly due to the following factors: advancements in the battery capacity which fulfils the power requirement of the electric commercial vehicle, decrease in the price of EV batteries, and an increasing consumer preference towards clean mobility. Similarly, the autonomous driving has witnessed remarkable growth due to advancements in technology like telematics and increasing levels of autonomous driving.
In addition to Volvo Buses, there are other major manufacturers of electric buses like BYD (China), Nissan (Japan), Proterra (USA), Daimler AG (Germany), and Tesla (USA) in the global market. Proterra launched an autonomous electric bus development program in 2017 based in Nevada, USA. The company is working with the University of Nevada, Reno, and the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County, the local public transit operator.
Autonomous electric buses could be driven easily using platooning to increase the capacity on a given route without having to add an additional driver. This could be successful in the rapid transit services. Autonomous buses will also include features such as fare collection, assisting the elderly and the physically challenged, and helping passengers track their routes real time using their smartphones. Safety features such as autonomous emergency braking system, precision maneuvering through narrow lanes would simplify the tasks of the drivers of semi-autonomous commercial vehicles.
The increasingly stringent environmental regulations mandated by the governments worldwide and the consequent demand for emission-free transportation have fueled the growth of electric commercial vehicles. High dependence on fossil fuels, depleting oil reserves, and global warming concerns have called attention towards the importance of electric commercial vehicles. Increasing R&D activities to enhance the efficiency of electric commercial vehicles and inducting more semi-autonomous and autonomous features in vehicles are expected to boost the growth of the electric commercial vehicle market from 2022 to 2030.
Impact on Battery Technologies:
High capacity batteries are needed to store the energy and to convert it to the desired form for the efficient operation of electric commercial vehicles. Existing technologies such as Lithium-ion batteries have seen rapid improvements in the performance and cost due to investment in research and development activities by major players across the globe. Much of the development in the area have been fueled by start-up companies working on lithium-ion batteries (such as on silica anodes, solid state electrolytes, and advanced cathodes). The rapid decline in the cost of lithium-ion batteries is mainly due to two reasons:
- Massive increase in steps across all the segments of value chain
- Increase in performance of cells, making new cells comparatively cheaper
Lithium-ion batteries are a standard integral component of modern electric vehicles. Lithium-ion batteries are currently used in a majority of xEV (Electrified Vehicles), and it is likely that this type of batteries will lead the battery market scene throughout the next decade.
However, the solid-state battery is the future of the electric commercial vehicle market. Solid-state battery offers greatly reduced charging time, high energy density, and safe operation due to no wet battery technology being used. Most of the battery manufacturers and global vehicle manufacturers are committed towards the manufacturing of the next stage battery technology. Solid-state battery technology is expected to be commercialized by the start of 2021.
Countries that have introduced Autonomous Electric Buses
There exists a real possibility of people shifting from using personal mobility and opting for autonomous electric buses. A bus carrying 44 people would be preferred over 44 cars carrying 1 person each. Local transport providers in Australia, the US, China, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, etc., have supported the introduction of autonomous buses on the city streets. Switzerland’s pod buses, which can travel at a speed of 20km/h carrying 11 passengers, made their debut in 2016. California’s first autonomous bus service began in the first week of March 2018. Easy Mile has partnered with the Swedish local transportation agency and has test driven two electric self-driving shuttles in Sweden. Australia has also announced its plan to start a driverless full size, single decked bus to and from the planned Sydney airport, covering a distance of 19 km. In Japan, Hino Bus has teamed up with Softbank to test a minibus with a speed of 10 km/h and is planning to expand its presence before the 2020 Olympics.
The diesel-powered buses will soon become the past, and the introduction of semi-autonomous and autonomous buses will be the reality of the smart cities in the future. In the case of fully autonomous buses, there will be a reduction in the labor cost and the operational cost of the bus. Electric buses with autonomous features will require higher investment upfront. However, in most cases, these electric buses will be partially funded with state and federal initiatives, and the usage of electricity is significantly cheaper than gasoline. The main challenge with the autonomous electric buses is the seamless implementation of technology with minimal risk factor.