Continental and EasyMile are making self-driving vehicles for Singapore roads – here’s what it’s like inside

(From left) Ralph Lauxmann, Continental senior vice president, systems and technology, chassis and safety division, Gilbert Gagnaire, EasyMile CEO and founder, Tan Kong Hwee, Singapore Economic Development Board executive director of mobility, Lo Kien Foh, Continental managing director, and Pejvan Begui, EasyMile chief technology officer, standing in front of the Continental Urban Mobility Experience development platform.
Sean Lim / Business Insider

The future where self-driving vehicles roam the roads is coming at us full-speed.

German automotive manufacturing company Continental Automotive Singapore, and French autonomous vehicle technology company EasyMile are the latest names to announce self-driving technology plans, revealing that they are working together to devise solutions for driverless mobility in Singapore.

“By 2019, we hope to get the vehicle certified – with its built-in technology and other additional elements that we’re planning to incorporate. By 2020, our plan is to reach the stage where the vehicle completely does not require a safety driver,” said Lo Kien Foh, managing director of Continental, at the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on Thursday (Nov 15).

When asked about where the vehicle is set to be implemented, Lo said that the two automotive companies are working with a team from the Ministry Of Transport and the Land Transport Authority to pick the most suitable locations.

EasyMile is the company which launched EZ10, a driverless shuttle bus, at Gardens by the Bay in 2016. Recently, it also announced a partnership with ComfortDelGro, to test out the same vehicle on the National University of Singapore campus.

Together with Continental, EasyMile created the Continental Urban Mobility Experience development platform, which made its debut in Frankfurt in 2017. It has been tested in the US and Japan and is now in Singapore as well.

At a media preview, Business Insider was told that the shuttle bus is pre-programmed using two basic functions – GPS and Lidar, which stands for light detection and ranging.

Lidar is a surveying method that measures distance to a target by illuminating the target with pulsed laser light, and then measuring the reflected pulses with a sensor.

Continental Automotive Singapore

The GPS coordinates give instructions on where to travel towards, while Lidar measures distances from the vehicle to its surroundings, such as to a building.

And that’s how the vehicle knows exactly when to hit the brakes: Lidar scans the area in a 50m range and if there’s an obstacle – such as a person – it will stop 2m before the object to prevent a collision.

The vehicle automatically detects and relies on the best source of accuracy at any given moment. For example, in a sheltered area where GPS signals are compromised, the vehicle will automatically switch to Lidar to measure distances. Likewise, in an open space where Lidar cannot detect any target, the vehicle will rely on GPS.

The vehicle also has inertia measurements to sense if its going uphill or downhill.

The distance it travels is controlled by either a timer, a supervisor who presses a button on a remote control, or a pre-programmed route.

It only moves off when its doors are closed. Doors are controlled either by a supervisor in the control room, or when the “door close” button is hit. There’s also a “handicap” button which releases a ramp.

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A tablet on board provides information on the vehicle’s speed, direction and battery power.

Sean Lim / Business Insider

There is a monitor which displays the vehicle’s current stop, and its destination point.

Sean Lim / Business Insider

Also, the vehicle features a built-in charging station for personal devices.

Sean Lim / Business Insider

Singapore, which houses one of Continental’s largest R&D locations in Asia, already has a test centre for automated vehicles located in Jurong Innovation District, with on-going automated vehicles trials being conducted at one-north and Sentosa.

The city has also identified three towns for pilot development of automated vehicles by the early 2020s.

“With a regulatory sandbox for automated vehicles in place, Singapore has the flexibility to quickly adjust its regulatory framework to support the fast pace of development for automated vehicles technology while safeguarding public safety,” Continental and EasyMile said in a statement.