Singapore wants to claim the lead position in the race of autonomous vehicle deployment

Note: this article was first publisehd on LinkedIn on Sep 15th, 2018. But, it’s still very relevant.

Link to the article on LinkedIn: Singapore wants to claim the lead position in the race of autonomous vehicles deployment

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It’s with excitement that I spent the last two weeks in #Singapore, third time this year, attending a number of diverse meetings to discuss the future of public transportation.

Singapore is determined to claim the lead position in the race of pilot deployment of fleets of driverless vehicles in public transport - and I’m glad to be part of this journey together with knowledgeable colleagues who also joined me on this trip. A mixture of learning, sharing, experimenting, partnering, accomplishing at the end. 

It was great spending time and having one-on-one conversations with C-level execs and senior management of Public Transport Operators (PTO), local and multinational tech companies, Public Transport Authorities (PTA), technological universities, among others. I also attended the closed full day symposium by the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and the Land Transport Authority (LTA) on “Testing and Certification of Autonomous Vehicles” held by the Working Groups under the Committee on Autonomous Road Transport for Singapore (CARTS), an initiative of the Ministry of Transport of Singapore (MOT) to explore means to harness Autonomous Vehicle (AV) technology.

More on the side of touring around, I also visited transit hubs, bus depots, R&D and training facilities and fleet management system office. Not least, also the Centre of Excellence for Testing and Research of Autonomous Vehicles (CETRAN), a circuit built to replicate public roads in Singapore in detailed conditions, including features like a rain simulator and flood zone to test driving in different weather conditions.

Now, whilst on my return flight to Stockholm, I take the time to briefly reflect on the outcome of these meetings and the ambition of Singapore.

In order to put into perspective, I start with some key facts about the sovereign city-state of Singapore:

  • Small island country in Southeast Asia: 720km2 of land
  • Densely populated: ~5.7 million inhabitants, density of approx. 8 residents/km2 (3rd highest in the world, and the number is growing)
  • One of the most developed nations in the world
  • Human Development Index (HDI): 0.925 (5th in world ranking)
  • GDP per capita: $93,678 (3rd in world ranking)
  • Low density of road motor vehicles per 1000 inhabitants : 149 (95th in the world)
  • Counts to one of the best public transport system worldwide.
  • KPMG AV readiness index (2018) assessed the nation as second best prepared in regards to openness and preparedness for autonomous vehicles
  • The Bloomberg Innovation Index ranks Singapore as third among the most innovative economies

In other words, Singapore is a nation that sets high standards and indeed chase them! And a lot is going on to reach the smart nation vision! So, since urban mobility is an issue and space is scarce, like elsewhere in many metropolitan areas, shared and multimodal mobility is vital. Transportation is the top pillar of Singapore’s Smart Nation Strategy which envisions car-lite estates, i.e. from private cars to shared mobility. The ambition is to reduce reliance on the car and move towards alternative modes of transportation that are more sustainable; the aim is to claim for 85% usage of public transportation instead of cars by 2050. Thus, Singapore is determined to offer an attractive public transport system to its inhabitants.

On the matter of future transport systems, it’s incredible the level of ambition of the MOT and LTA to take the lead when it comes to the operation of fleets of autonomous vehicles as per the detailed Request For Information (RFI) for Pilot Deployment of Autonomous Vehicles as a Form of Public Transportation, the first one of its kind, which was published by the MOT and LTA in November of last year. Expectation now surrounds the decision by the authorities to launch a procurement process (or any kind of call for cooperation in a competitive matter to support consortiums) anytime soon as the government plans to start demonstrations on the ground already next year and pilot deployment in three upcoming development districts already in 2022-2023. MOT and LTA aim at offering Fixed and Scheduled (F&S) and Mobility on Demand (MoD) services to the general public, i.e. autonomous scheduled buses for fixed trunk lines and autonomous on-demand shuttles for the First/Last (F/L) mile.

By endeavouring such an ambitious target, Singapore is a reference for many metropolitan areas globally. The nation’s approach to take the lead position is shaking up the driverless vehicle business, which goes far beyond the vehicle manufacturers and all the complex technological aspects involved, though these are extremely important and also taken into consideration. From a truly holistic urban mobility perspective, a whole chain of firms are involved and #partnership is a vital component to accelerate the roadmap and make things happen. The ones best prepared to take over the challenge will be in the forefront. 

Stakeholders in the whole chain are willing to team up to be able to understand the holistic context from a city perspective and its array of impacts from a technological, business and social perspectives. General agreement is that an end to end approach is advantageous to meet the vision of Singapore on autonomous and shared mobility. On this matter, vehicle makers - from pods to buses -, public transport operators, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and Internet of Things (IoT) companies, technological universities, engineering enterprises, social organizations, insurance companies, consulting agencies, among a number of other stakeholders, are watching and willing to pave the way to form possible #partnerships to be able to conquer a wealth position in this promising and prestigious market.

The technological challenge is well known in the segment. So, just to highlight an example beyond the technological aspect, the impact on society is a genuine concern of the government of Singapore to bridge the gap between the society acceptance and the AV technology. Such a deployment has to cover and take care of many aspects beyond technology, from upskilling of workforce (e.g. safety driver in the transition phase from L3/4 to L5, remote operations, AV technicians, operations of transit hubs and depots) to public education to retrain human’s natural reluctance to trust disruptive technologies. 

Of course there are still many questions related to legislation and regulation, intellectual property, common standards and protocols, insurance, financing, technological deployment roadmap, contracting model, etc. But Singapore is very aware of this and is putting efforts into resolving the issues. Surely the hurdles will be incrementally cleared out in mean time through #partnerships, advanced technological developments to provide reliable Self Driving Systems (SDS) kits, safe and reliable algorithms capable of assessing, managing and controlling risks, commitment of the authorities to clear the regulatory impediments and invest efforts to facilitate demos and trials in view of the limits of technology yet to be fine-tuned, which is certainly a reticence among serious players willing to roll out AVs. 

Jumping off to some conclusions, the road is long and the timeline is challenging, but Singapore is definitely in a key position! The government has a true concern for the society in order to offer the best traveller experience and make people to steer the course of autonomous vehicle technology towards a promising future, which includes emerging jobs fuelled by technological advancements. Singapore’s structured regulatory standardization program approach might function as a worldwide certification hub for AVs.

At large, very successful meetings and tons of learnings. Big thanks to my fellow colleagues that are on the same journey.

Everyone will learn along the way.

Rodrigo Caetano

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