The government also unveiled plans for the public to hail self-driving shuttles using a smartphone.
Driverless buses are due to be piloted in three suburbs, Punggol, Tengah and the Jurong Innovation District, where roads have been designed to accommodate the vehicles, according to Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan.
Densely populated Singapore hopes driverless technology will alleviate land constraints and labour shortages.
Plans to use driverless road sweepers to clean roads and collect rubbish were unveiled in Singapore last year.
It is intended for the small buses to start their services on less crowded roads, avoiding rush hour. They are expected to complement, not replace, existing manned bus services.
Singapore avoids the congestion of other large Asean cities through road tolls, heavy car charges, limiting car ownership and investing in public transport. Singapore is one of the world’s most expensive places to own a car.
“The autonomous vehicles will greatly enhance the accessibility and connectivity of our public transport system, particularly for the elderly, families with young children and the less mobile,” the minister said at the opening of a self-driving testing centre.
The new centre would test how cars and buses coped with pedestrians, heavy rain, aggressive drivers, cyclists, scooters and other road scenarios, Khaw explained.
He added: “More importantly, we can gain further insights into how we can develop new towns or refurbish existing ones for the safe mass deployment of autonomous vehicles.”
At least 10 firms were currently testing driverless technology in Singapore, Khaw said.
US tech giants Google and Tesla have been leading the push towards autonomous vehicles. Apple has said it is working on a driverless system under the codename Project Titan.
The taxi app Uber is working to develop a fleet of driverless vehicles in partnership with Volvo, which is due to supply up to 24,000 self-driving cars.
The deal envisages that Uber will purchase the vehicles over the course of three years from 2019.
Uber began testing Volvo prototypes last year in the US.
Neither Uber nor Volvo disclosed the financial terms but confirmed that the deal was “non-exclusive”, meaning both firms were free to form similar partnerships with other operators.
China’s Geely bought Volvo from Ford in 2010.
Ford, BMW, Fiat and Volkswagen are all also working on autonomous vehicles, in collaboration with software firms like Intel, Mobileye, Bosch and Nvidia.
A driverless bus in Estonia. Picture credit: Wikimedia