Autonomous TruckingStartupsTechnology

Singapore is where you can find the future of transportation

Singapore, the island city-state founded in 1819 as a remote trading outpost of the East India Company, is re-inventing itself once again as a 21st c. logistics and technology center. As part of that effort, Singapore is enthusiastically hosting driving trials for some of the world’s most important autonomous vehicle startups.

Dense, rich, and congested cities like Singapore are the ‘natural habitat’ for autonomous vehicles and are angling to be early adopters of this technology. Through a mixture of subsidies for autonomous vehicles, strict limits on the number of personal cars permitted on the island, and its own state-of-the-art infrastructure system, Singapore created a multi-pronged approach to accelerating the development and implementation of driverless car technology.

On Tuesday, Delphi Automotive announced its $450M acquisition of AV software startup nuTonomy, which has been testing driverless cars in Singapore since last year. Delphi and nuTonomy had already teamed up with Uber’s Southeast Asia ride-hailing rival Grab to lead Singapore’s pilot program for on-demand driverless taxis, which is scheduled to run from 2017-9 in the one-north subzone in Queenstown, Singapore.

Singapore’s embrace of driverless taxis follows an important 2011 MIT case study based in Singapore that found that the entire city could meet its personal mobility needs with 1/3 of the total number of passenger vehicles currently in operation if it adopted an AMoD (Automated Mobility-on-Demand) solution.

Also on Tuesday, Belgian logistics group Katoen Natie demonstrated its autonomous truck project at ExxonMobil’s manufacturing site on Jurong Island, just southwest of Singapore’s main island. The single truck transports polymer products between the company’s packaging and intermediate storage facilities 24/7, 365 days a year, and is expected to move 250K tons per year. Katoen Natie’s truck is guided by 2,800 transponders buried in the tarmac along a fixed route, a concept that holds promise for onsite industrial applications. 70% of the truck’s cost was covered by subsidies from the government of Singapore.

The ramped-up autonomous vehicle testing comes during announcements that Singapore will sharply limit the number of personal cars allowed on the main island. There are 600,000 private cars currently on the road in Singapore, and starting in 2018, that number will never increase: for every new car introduced, one car will have to be retired. This new freeze on the number of private cars supersedes an earlier law that permitted an annual growth rate in the private car fleet of 0.25% and will keep over 1,500 new cars from hitting the road next year.

Singapore hopes that driverless cars will replace privately owned cars at a ratio of up to 1:10, because the autonomous vehicles won’t sit idle all day like private cars. Singapore’s goverment added the cap on the total number of cars to other barriers to car ownership it has already erected, including huge tariffs on imported cars and the license required to purchase a car, priced at $37K.

On the infrastructure side, in July Siemens announced that it will send up to 300 digitization experts to Singapore by 2022 to help run its pilot program for MindSphere, an open, cloud-based Internet of Things (IoT) operating system designed to connect industrial machines, energy, healthcare, and transportation infrastructure in Siemens’ largest fully-integrated Digitization Hub to date. As part of this digitization push, Siemens signed collaboration agreements with three of Singapore’s major tech institutions, including Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, which will work with Siemens on mobility solutions based on self-driving vehicles and data analytics to optimize the performance of green buildings.

Singapore has established a friendly regulatory framework that has encouraged 3P deals between universities, public utilities, automakers, and AV startups to view the city as an ideal location for experimenting with this emerging technology. And in June, Singapore’s Land Transit Authority dramatically expanded the space available for testing driverless cars, opening up the areas around the National University of Singapore, Singapore Science Parks 1 and 2, and the Dover and Buona Vista neighborhoods for trials. These new proving grounds will complement the space already available in the one-north zone.

The city is nothing if not forward-thinking, and its latest moves demonstrate a major commitment to growing Singapore’s nascent AV industry even beyond what has already been achieved.

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John Paul Hampstead, Associate Editor

John Paul writes about current events and economics, especially politics, finance, and commodities, and holds a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Michigan. In previous lives John Paul studied Shakespeare in London and Buddhism in India, but now he focuses on transportation and logistics in the heart of Freight Alley--Chattanooga. He spends his free time with his wife and daughter herding cats, collecting books, and walking alongside the Tennessee River.