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Government of Singapore partnering with private sector to promote AV development.

Singapore Autonomous Test Bed for U.S., International Developers

The Singapore government has been proactive on autonomous-vehicle development, having concluded an intelligent transport system is vital for the city-state with its population of 5.45 million on just 276 sq.-mi. of land.

SINGAPORE – Aptiv, the U.S.-Irish autonomous vehicle (AV) technology supplier, is one of many AV developers using Singapore as a test-bed for such vehicles, related sensors and relevant electronic components.

The Asian city-state’s support for the technology has led to four generations of autonomous vehicles being approved for eventual use by Singapore transport authorities, which include models from Audi and BMW.

Other models include the Chrysler Pacifica and the Hyundai Ioniq. The latter is the mainstay of a robotaxi fleet being operated by Massachusetts-based Motional, a joint venture established by Aptiv and the South Korea-based Hyundai Motor Group.

Motional (pictured, below) is keen to commercialize autonomous driving transport, building on a service tested in Singapore since 2016 by Massachusetts-based NuTonomy, which Aptiv acquired in 2017.

MotionalMotional Singapore-expansion.jpg

Cody Kamin, Motional’s Singapore site lead and special projects director, says the company has used this experience to launch a public robotaxi fleet in Las Vegas, already serving riders on the Lyft and Uber networks. In Los Angeles, robotaxis are providing autonomous deliveries for Uber Eats customers. 

“We’ll begin our fully driverless service later this year in Las Vegas. That means that our robotaxis on the Lyft and Uber networks in Las Vegas will not have a vehicle operator present in the driver’s seat, says Kamin.

After Las Vegas, Motional will expand the service to Los Angeles, followed by other major cities in the U.S. and globally, Kamin adds.

Singapore has been key to developing these services, with the country’s Land Transport Authority and its project partners operating a purpose-built test center for AV trials on the west side of the island since 2017.

As well as a physical track, the center includes a digital arm: “The digital test track not only helps to cut costs but also expands the types of testing without any real-world risks,” says Niels de Boer (pictured, below left), senior program director of the Centre of Excellence for Testing & Research of Autonomous Vehicles (CETRAN). An approval by CETRAN is necessary for the trial of any AV to take place within designated zones in Singapore. 

Niels deBoer CETRAN.jpgThe Singapore government has been proactive on AV development, having concluded that an intelligent transport system is vital for Singapore with its population of 5.45 million and land mass of just 716 sq.-km (276 sq.-mi.). AVs offering smart mobility solutions form part of Singapore’s Land Transport Master Plan 2040 to achieve its vision of capping commutes between home and office at 45 minutes. 

Other AV trials and services underway in Singapore include scheduled bus shuttles at tertiary institutions and on-demand internal shuttles at tourist destinations, such as the island’s Gardens by the Bay in the heart of the city. So far, all Singapore AV trials and services have been within designated areas, although de Boer and government officials say open-road trials are planned.

International management consultancy Roland Berger has said such initiatives have made Singapore the most active country in AV development. In the latest findings of its twice-yearly Autonomous Disruptive Radar assessment, Singapore ranked No.1 out of 22 countries being tracked globally. Singapore came up first in the November 2022 report owing to its robust performance in mobility indicators, high proportion of shared vehicles and 5G coverage. 

“As autonomous driving is in uncharted terrain, Singapore stands out for its open and predictable approach to support the fledgling industry,” says CETRAN’s de Boer. “Even as we are working with industry partners on approvals for trials of such vehicles, there is also a need to engage them for the next stage, which involves feedback to be considered in an era of driverless-vehicle fleet management.”  

Kamin says the Singapore “government has been proactive in exploring driverless technology and working with AV companies to support their R&D in the region. Local support has been an important part of our presence here.” 

That has been key for public-private sector collaboration in Singapore trials, such as those run by the Infocomm Media Development Authority working with parties such as commercial real estate owners, telecommunications and geographical information services to create novel 5G applications, which could include AV services. 

Wireless 5G communication with AVs is one target of a Singapore Science Park test bed, for instance. Using wireless communication, smart zones with intelligent infrastructure in built-up locations, such as Science Park, have been installed. The goal, government officials say, is to use mobile 5G-based sensors and signals to provide added vital traffic and roadside information to AVs otherwise limited to information from embedded street-level cameras. 

These tests assess how vehicles also pass information to each other, enabling them to react to the road environment and obstacles. As these connected vehicles have one-tenth of a second to act on such information, Singapore’s 5G tests aim to find the sweet spot regarding how much data that can be optimally transmitted to vehicles and be processed efficiently. 

Kamin says Motional’s Singapore operations are growing. The company has more than 200 employees in the city-state and is still recruiting: “We recently increased our investment in Singapore with a multimillion-dollar expansion project that doubled the size of our office and garage space,” he says. 

“Along with our testing operations, our Singapore office is also home to R&D teams. These team members support many technical aspects of Motional’s engineering programs, including machine learning, mapping, remote vehicle assistance, cloud-based systems architecture and datasets. There’s a tremendous talent pool in Singapore that we’ve had the opportunity to leverage,” Kamin says. 

This Singapore research feeds into U.S. testing undertaken in Boston, Pittsburgh, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. “The diversity of our testing is a unique advantage as it enables smart, scalable driverless technology that can safely handle a wide range of environments. Singapore is an important part of this ecosystem due to its climate, modern infrastructure and left hand-side driving,” says Kamin. 

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