'Pandemic-proof' bus by S'porean and 3 others wins design contest

Called Futurebus, it has remote payment, rotating handrail sterilised by UV rays

Mr Ryan Teo and three other university students designed the Futurebus, which - among other features - has seats that are arranged such that no two commuters sitting side by side face the same direction. Mr Teo said the bus' design could make public
Mr Ryan Teo and three other university students designed the Futurebus, which - among other features - has seats that are arranged such that no two commuters sitting side by side face the same direction. Mr Teo said the bus' design could make public transport safer without lowering its capacity, the inevitable result of social distancing measures amid the Covid-19 pandemic.PHOTO: RYAN TEO
Mr Ryan Teo and three other university students designed the Futurebus, which - among other features - has seats that are arranged such that no two commuters sitting side by side face the same direction. Mr Teo said the bus' design could make public
Mr Teo said the team redesigned the floor plan of the bus to minimise passenger path-crossing, so passengers can exit via the long sliding door that spans the full length of the bus, instead of walking through the bus to get to the exit.PHOTO: RYAN TEO

A 23-year-old Singaporean student is part of a four-member team that has won an international design competition with a "pandemic-proof" bus.

Mr Ryan Teo, together with three foreign students he had met only via Zoom, created what they call the Futurebus in just 24 hours.

The vehicle's features include a sliding door spanning the full length of the bus, remote payment technology that does away with physical card readers, and a rotating handrail that is sterilised by an ultraviolet strip.

Mr Teo said the design could make public transport safer without lowering the capacity of the bus, the inevitable result of social distancing measures around the world amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It's always been clear to me that Singapore has one of the best public transport systems in the world. That said, no system in the world is suited for a pandemic situation," said the final-year product design and engineering student at Northwestern University in Illinois.

"Our Futurebus concept was designed with this in mind as we asked ourselves: How might we keep public transport safe without lowering the vehicle's capacity?"

The FourC Challenge in June, organised by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, saw more than 200 students from 52 universities compete in a 24-hour "design sprint".

Teams were set up randomly by organisers and collaboration took place remotely.

Mr Teo's team won the 50,000 yuan (S$10,000) grand prize, and its winning entry has since attracted media attention from various countries including the United States, China, and Spain.

The other three members of the team are Mr Yang Shunli from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Mr William Ma from Harvard University, and Mr Li Xin from Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT OF THE FUTURE

It's always been clear to me that Singapore has one of the best public transport systems in the world. That said, no system in the world is suited for a pandemic situation... Our Futurebus concept was designed with this in mind as we asked ourselves: How might we keep public transport safe without lowering the vehicle's capacity?

MR RYAN TEO, a final-year student at Northwestern University in Illinois, US, who was part of a four-member team that won an international design competition with a "pandemic-proof" bus.

Mr Teo said his team's ideas, while inventive, were adapted from technology already available. While it was more of a "thought experiment", the team tried to make sure the Futurebus was a viable proposal, both in terms of cost and plausibility.

The rotating handrail, for instance, was inspired by the toilet seat found at Chicago O'Hare International Airport which rotates its cover after each use.

 
 

Similarly, the Futurebus' handrail will rotate 360 degrees each time the vehicle is at a bus stop so that it can be cleaned without passengers having to adjust their grip.

The remote payment system also already exists. Mr Teo cited a system developed by ST Engineering which requires a commuter to carry only a long-range radio-frequency identification wristband, card or key tag.

Commuters can then walk through a barrier-free frame and have their fare automatically deducted without having to tap a card or wait for a gate to open.

Together with the vehicle's long sliding door, commuters will not have to cluster around the narrow doors where card readers are typically located in buses.

"We redesigned the floor plan of the bus to minimise passenger path-crossing," Mr Teo said. "(This way), passengers can directly step off the bus instead of having to walk through the bus to get to the exit."

Other problems were solved in a relatively low-tech manner.

The team interviewed commuters and found a desire for private spaces in public vehicles.

To achieve this, Mr Teo's team simply alternated the direction of the bus seats so that no two commuters sitting side by side face the same direction, creating a "cocoon of semi-private space" for each passenger.

 
 

Asked if he hoped to see his team's design implemented soon, Mr Teo said: "Our design process was extremely rushed as we tried to fit what would normally take months or years, into just 24 hours.

"But I think pandemic-proofing should be considered as part of future design criteria as regular infrastructure improvements are made over the next few decades."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2020, with the headline ''Pandemic-proof' bus by S'porean and 3 others wins design contest'. Print Edition | Subscribe