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How she's aiming to keep self-driving vehicles safe on the roads
By Mary Wu
Executive engineer Lim Hui Hong is part of LTA’s Vehicle Technology and Standards team that is looking into the use of autonomous vehicle (AV) technology. PHOTO: SPH MEDIA/FRENCHESCAR LIM

After working on the Thomson-East Coast Line, her next challenge is shaping Singapore’s public transport landscape

In 2021, self-driving road sweepers plied the roads along Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and CleanTech Park at Jurong Innovation District.

These autonomous vehicles (AVs) not only help improve the productivity of the cleaning sector, but they can also reduce traffic congestion as road-cleaning activities are shifted to off-peak hours and at night.

They are among at least 40 self-driving vehicles that have been tested and approved to run on Singapore’s roads since the implementation of the milestone testing regime.

However, before they can even be deployed in trials on public roads, they must be cleared by the Land Transport Authority (LTA). One of the divisions involved is Vehicle Technology and Standards, of which executive engineer Ms Lim Hui Hong is a part.

The 28-year-old must first review the safety of these AVs, poring through documentation to ensure that the vehicle is compliant with international safety standards. For this, her mechanical engineering background comes in handy as there are a lot of technical knowledge and calculations involved.

Once she has assessed that the AV looks good on paper, the vehicle is then put through milestone tests that determine if it can handle various traffic scenarios in accordance with Singapore’s Highway Code.

Together with Centre of Excellence for Testing & Research of Autonomous Vehicles – NTU (Cetran), she assesses the AV on a test circuit such as the one at Cetran’s 18ha facility. Traffic scenarios range from basic ones such as obstacle detection (pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles) and compliance with road markings such as stop lines; to more complex scenarios such as overtaking static and moving obstacles, traffic junctions, and giving way to vehicles and pedestrians, she explains.

Only after the AV has passed these milestone tests can the AV developer commence further trials at designated trial areas such as one-north, Dover and Buona Vista.

Ms Lim shares that as AV technologies mature and become safer, Singapore’s vehicle regulations are also evolving so that the city-state can make use of these autonomous systems to make its transport network more efficient and future-ready, eventually benefiting millions of road users daily.

Since 2015, different types of AVs have been piloted on the roads, including as bus services, on-demand shuttles and road sweepers. According to LTA, AVs can open up new mobility options for commuters while allowing goods delivery and utility operations to be done more efficiently. Their deployment will also create new job opportunities in the land transport sector and contribute to Singapore’s Smart Nation journey.

Currently, a safety officer has to be on board all AVs that are deployed on the public roads. Ms Lim hopes that her work can help to facilitate the development of AVs so that they can one day be safer than those helmed by human drivers.

A greener land transport system

Apart from assessing the safety of AVs, Ms Lim and her teammates are also attending courses to learn more about hybrid and electric vehicles in line with Singapore’s efforts to decarbonise the land transport sector. As the digitalisation of public transport systems gives rise to new threats, she sees automotive cyber security as another growing field.

After joining LTA full time in 2018, she has been involved in several landmark projects, including the Thomson-East Coast Line (TEL) project as a project engineer with the Rail Services Sub-Group until April 2021.

“As the role involved plenty of visits to the construction sites, I remember feeling fascinated and excited about how the entire station will take shape as we progress along the construction journey,” she says.

“Coincidentally, I was involved in the mechanical services projects’ installation for the Upper Thomson Station and my current office is also at Upper Thomson. Hence, I feel very proud whenever I commute to work on the TEL as I get to enjoy the fruits of my labour!”

Under LTA’s structured job rotation programme for scholars, she was transferred in May 2021 to the agency’s Vehicle Technology and Standards team to look into AV technology.

She also gets to work with people from other agencies. For example, she helped to develop the inaugural Institution of Engineers Transport Resource Manual in 2021 – a valuable resource for automotive engineering in Singapore.

Ms Lim also worked with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and LTA’s data scientists to collect and analyse vehicle fire statistics so that vehicle models more prone to fire could be identified, as well as to conduct joint investigations with SCDF and motor dealers.

As for those who are keen to join the transport industry, she offers this piece of advice:

“Having a sense of purpose in your work is very important as it will motivate you to push through the tough times. My sense of purpose comes from knowing that what I am working on will have a direct impact on people’s daily lives.”

Mapping the future of land transport

Ms Lim Hui Hong was awarded the LTA Undergraduate Scholarship in 2016 during her undergraduate studies at National University of Singapore. She went on to do an internship with LTA in the second half of 2016 and went on a six-month exchange in Sweden in the first half of 2017 as part of her university studies.

During her internship with LTA, she was attached to the Sengkang-Punggol LRT and Bukit Panjang LRT teams where she learnt how to run and maintain smooth operations of Light Rapid Transit (LRT) networks. This invaluable experience has come in useful for her current job responsibilities of reviewing calculations for external mountings on AVs.

Studying in Sweden was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for her as she had the opportunity to network with students from all over the world through group projects, social gatherings and overseas trips.

“Through exchange, I broadened my horizons on how different modes of public transport can complement each other to provide a holistic land transport system for the people. Hence, I am grateful that I can do my part for Singapore’s land transport system through my work on the Thomson-East Coast Line and AV regulations.”

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