Singapore: A Testing Ground for Autonomous Vehicles

Singapore is one of the most autonomous vehicle friendly countries in the world.

In 2015, nuTonomy began testing autonomous cars in Singapore. A year later they began running autonomous taxis in Singapore. The vehicles currently travel around a designated circuit within the one-north district. The circuit has almost doubled in length to 12km over the past two years.

A nuTonomy taxi during a test run in Singapore

A month after they began their taxi effort nuTonomy partnered with Grab (the most popular ride-sharing service in Singapore) to make the autonomous taxis available to the masses. A catch is that the taxis will not be driverless. For the foreseeable future all taxis will have a safety driver ready to take over in the case of an emergency.

– A video showing a nuTonomy vehicle in action

Autonomous taxis are just one of Singapore’s many efforts to use artificial intelligence in its transportation sector. Last year, the Government unveiled plans to add AI to mass transport services for intra- and inter-town travel, on-demand shuttle services, freight transport, and utility operations such as road sweeping. [1]

 

Why is Singapore so supportive of autonomous vehicles?

“Autonomous vehicles are fast on its way to becoming a reality on our roads…They can enhance the efficiency and convenience of our land transportation system. Thus, it is important that we do not impede their growth as some cities have done.”

– Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng

Interesting fact: Only 15% of Singaporeans own cars. Conversely, about 50% of Americans own cars. The main reason Singapore’s low percentage is the high taxes and fees associated with car ownership there. As a result the mobility market in Singapore is worth approximately $1 billion. An autonomous ride sharing service would be able to make transportation more available and reduce the price of taxis. [2] [3]

Minister Ng also believes that autonomous vehicles will need to be closely monitored and regulated. .

“As AV technology is not yet mature, during trials, accidents are not to be unexpected. LTA will, therefore, put in place a robust regulatory framework to minimise the possibility of accidents.”

– Ng Chee Meng

 

When will autonomous cars be available for widespread use?

Most automotive companies project that autonomous vehicle technology will start to come online between 2025 and 2030.  nuTonomy feels differently, They aren’t looking to build cars that are specifically designed to be autonomous. Instead, they want to integrate their technology with existing cars and speed up the process of introduction. They have stated their intention to launch a commercial service in Singapore in 2018. [4]

 

Looking forward

A successful integration between nuTonomy and Grab would have huge implications for the future of autonomous vehicles around the world. Many people don’t trust self driving cars. This is in large part due to their lack of integration in everyday life. Most people don’t walk down the street and see a self driving car. If there are suddenly a hundred of them in a city, driving around all hours of the day, people will become more comfortable with them and probably begin to trust them.

On the flip side, if nuTonomy’s cars are involved in accidents, trust will become even lower and it will be difficult for future partnerships to develop and cities to approve widespread use.

 

Sources:

[1] https://www.imda.gov.sg/infocomm-and-media-news/whats-trending/2017/2/driverless-cars-picking-up-speed-in-singapore

[2] https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2016/08/why-singapore-leads-in-self-driving-cars/494222/

[3] http://cars.lovetoknow.com/Car_Ownership_Statistics

[4] https://e27.co/nutonomy-coo-doug-parker-says-singapore-one-best-test-beds-autonomous-vehicles-20170703/

 

2 thoughts on “Singapore: A Testing Ground for Autonomous Vehicles

  1. Great post Dan! I’m curious how Singapore’s legislation surrounding compares to the US’s. The majority of our legal precedent for self driving vehicles comes from the SELF DRIVE Act which was passed by Congress this past September. It established a set of regulatory norms for manufacturers to follow as the industry evolves. It is quite vague though and leaves a lot of room for interpretation. I would like to know if Singapore has any official legislation regarding AVs or if their government is simply more optimistic about it. I find it interesting that Congress passed a bill that suggested a lot of optimism and commitment to AVs going forward, and yet we have not seen the same level of AV industry activity on our streets as we have in Singapore. Clearly there are cities like Boston and Mountain View that serve as American industry hubs, but maybe our inferior roads and infrastructure will leaving us lagging behind for the foreseeable future.

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