​Speech by NTU President Professor Subra Suresh at the NTU-Volvo partnership to launch autonomous electric buses

Published on: 13-Jan-2018

Your Excellency Håkan Jevrell, Swedish Ambassador to Singapore

Mr Håkan Agnevall, President of the Volvo Bus Corporation

Mr Lam Wee Shann, Chief Innovation and Technology Officer of Land Transport Authority

Mr Desmond Kuek, President and Group CEO of SMRT

Mr Ravindra Vaidya, Head of Account Management & Business Development of ABB

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, 

Good afternoon and welcome to NTU.

Earlier this week, I had announced NTU’s vision to become a Smart Campus that harnesses the power of digital technology and tech-enabled solutions to support better learning and living experiences, the discovery of new knowledge, and the sustainability of resources. 

So I’m extremely delighted that today, NTU will sign a partnership agreement with Volvo to carry out research on autonomous and fully electric buses. Autonomous vehicles are certainly part of the roadmap of our Smart Campus vision.

Over the past many years, faculty and students at NTU have developed transportation technologies ranging from sensors, robotics, machine learning, deep learning algorithms, and software platforms that can integrate all these systems. We are now exploring both from a pedagogical point of view and a research point of view in practical applications, areas such as transport fleet management, traffic optimisation, mobility-as-a-service platforms, and finally to perhaps realise the ultimate driving goal, the self-driving vehicle.

In the past few years - and the past many decades when I was living in the US and especially in the recent few years - I've seen working with different industries, the rapid push towards autonomous vehicles from the time Uber launched it's first autonomous Uber in the city of Pittsburgh. I had the privilege of taking the inaugural ride with the Mayor of Pittsburgh. And to Google and Tesla's self-driving technologies enablers. When I came to Singapore, and especially to NTU, I was really delighted to see the level of passion, sophistication, commitment and leadership, in which the university had moved to bring these advanced concepts to reality as fast as anyone else in the world.

Singapore is moving towards becoming a smart and technologically-savvy nation, and as part of that, a car-lite society that prioritises public transport, especially given its scarcity of land. So there is great potential for the NTU with its beautiful and large 200-hectare campus - or those of you who are used to think in acres it's 500 acres - to partner with large global entities such as Volvo, to make this campus a model for tech-enabled solutions that can help improve everyday lives in a sustainable and technologically advanced way.

NTU’s partnership with Volvo

Today’s partnership signing is a milestone for Singapore, for NTU and for Volvo. Since 1927, Volvo has had a hand in shaping the global transportation industry, influencing the way people travel. They are currently one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of large buses, trucks and coaches. Like NTU, Volvo embraces technological change and disruption. They are no strangers to electro-mobility with their electric and electric hybrid buses, which are already operating around the world.

NTU has been ramping up research in autonomous vehicles over the past few years and is among the first to test such a vehicle in Singapore. Since 2012, we have been testing driverless vehicles right here on our lush campus. Together with NTU’s expertise in engineering and mobility research, this partnership will push the frontiers of public transportation.

Our campus is huge, and with our population of about 40,000 students, faculty and staff, it creates an ideal environment for NTU to be a living lab of new technologies. In trying out exciting new ideas and technologies, we can also help to shape new policies in emerging areas. For example, NTU scientists are testing various autonomous vehicles at the CETRAN autonomous test circuit which simulates real road conditions so that autonomous vehicles can be safely deployed on public roads.

And we talked about autonomous vehicles just as we mentioned at yesterday's launch, we are very mindful about of fact that safety always comes first. Issues such as safety and cybersecurity are paramount. So when we try to address new technologies it is equally important that we as an academic institution focus how users interact with these technologies, and that will be part and parcel of the review as a university. 

And it's not just on land, up in the air, NTU is developing an air traffic management system for the safe flying of autonomous drones. These research projects, working closely with industry and government agencies, will help to shape future transportation policies and the design of public systems.

NTU is also an eco-friendly campus, as part of our smart campus initiative. We are very mindful of our commitment to environmental sustainability. Having electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles are very much part and parcel of the vision of becoming not just one of the top 15 most beautiful campuses in the world, but equally, one of the most environmentally-friendly and large campuses on the planet.

For this partnership with Volvo, we will be supported by two other industry players. SMRT is already a big partner of NTU, with the establishment of the SMRT-NTU Smart Urban Rail Corporate Lab on campus. Singapore’s premier multi-modal land transport provider, SMRT will help ensure the relevance of the research to Singapore’s needs. We are also partnering ABB, a top technology leader that will oversee the electric charging abilities of the vehicle.

NTU takes great pride in nurturing these industry connections which not only enable companies to benefit from fresh academic perspectives but also ensure research projects remain relevant to industry’s and society’s needs.

There is another thing I would like to mention. As a public university in Singapore, it is our duty to train young people to become future leaders in technologies that are relevant to society. Earlier this week, we announced two new educational programmes. Starting this year, all undergraduate students at NTU, will have the opportunity to take core curricular modules in what we call digital literacy. And also starting from this year, we will introduce a new undergraduate degree programme, specifically in the areas of artificial intelligence and data science, which will start with a cohort of a small number of students that we hope will grow in size in the years to come. And that will be offered starting this summer in the next academic year.

Today's announcement would not be possible without the hard work of a very large number of NTU faculty, students, staff members and researchers, as well as collaborators in Singapore from industry and government sectors. On behalf of all my colleagues, I would like to thank them for their dedication and their insights into these emerging technologies. In particular, I would like to thank two people who played a leadership role in today's announcement. Professor Subodh Mhaisalkar has been leading our ERI@N (Energy Reseach Institute at NTU) and he has played a very important role in fostering this partnership with Volvo. I would also like to thank our VP (Vice President) for research, Professor Lam Khin Yong and many of our faculty and colleagues at NTU, for all their contributions in creating this partnership.

In closing, with the strong support from SMRT, ABB and our global partners, I am confident that this partnership with Volvo will help shape the future of public transportation in Singapore and help further crystalise our vision and our aspirations for NTU to become one of the smartest campuses in the world. I also take personal pride in announcing this because I spent a year in Sweden and my daughters went to school in Sweden for a year. I also have a lot of Swedish connections and it is very nice to see this partnership especially after I replaced a Swede when I became the President of NTU. You may notice a slight Swedish accent in me and that is where it comes from.

So please join us on this journey as we drive the future of driverless vehicles together.

Thank you.

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