Singapore Looks at Having Driverless taxis

Commuters in Singapore could be greeted by driverless vehicles that could be book online using a smartphone app in the next few years. Such a technological drive would make Singapore among the first in the world to propose such a service. First trials are due to start this year following a partnership between Singapore Land Transport Authority and private companies Delphi Automotive Systems as well as nuTonomy. The agreement was signed on August 1 between the three partners.

“If these trials prove successful, the projects would be developed into full-scale mobility solutions for towns in Singapore … commuters will be able to summon autonomous shuttles or pods using their smartphones, and the shuttles or pods will bring them in air-conditioned comfort from point to point, for example, from their doorsteps to the train stations,” said the LTA in a press release. The project supports a government’s idea of 2014 which envisioned a completely car-free town and residents taking “personalised MRTs” in the form of driverless pods running underground from under their block to public transport nodes.

The future driverless vehicles would provide connecting links to public transport in a first-and-last mile basis as well as offering intra-town services. Singapore-based startup nuTonomy’s co-founder Emilio Frazzoli reported to local newspapers that the first “limited commercial deployment” will begin by 2018, where it expects to have a fleet size of 75. “It’ll not be Singapore-wide, it’ll be at certain locations,” he said, adding that it targets island-wide deployment by 2020. Delphi, on the other hand, expects its vehicles to be commercially-viable by 2019, with a fleet of 40 to 50 vehicles in Singapore within one year.

Mr Glen de Vos, the UK firm’s vice-president, said: “The next three years is going to be about making sure the technology can work, the whole eco-system is functional. The next phase is moving towards commercialisation.

Delphi has been testing its self-driving technology in the United States, where its Audi SQ5 prototype drove from San Francisco to New York almost fully autonomously last year. LTA chief executive Chew Men Leong, however, was more cautious about the timeframe.

Speaking to reporters after the signing ceremony, Mr Chew said: “Right now, I think we are at the very beginning stage, so I think it’ll still be quite a few years. Do allow us to work with our partners to bring these technologies to test for deployment. I think you will have to allow it to evolve.”

These two trials were culled from eight proposals the authorities received from a Request for Information exercise for mobility-on-demand driverless technologies in June last year.

Another three trials were announced last October, looking into driverless vehicles ferrying visitors around Gardens by the Bay and Sentosa Island, and an autonomous truck platooning system. The Request for Proposal for the latter closed on Monday.

Safety concerns over driverless vehicles came to the fore again in May, after a Tesla Model S crashed in Autopilot mode in Florida and its driver died. It was the first fatality involving self-driving vehicles, and Tesla has since traced the fault to a technical failure in the automatic braking system. Still, National University of Singapore transport researcher Lee Der-Horng said the timelines set by the companies would depend on how technology evolves.

(Source: gov.sg and Today Online)