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Speech by Mrs Josephine Teo at Autonomous Transport: Paving the Road for Future Mobility Event on 27 August 2014

27 Aug 2014 Speeches

Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction and welcome

1.     Good morning and a very warm welcome, especially to our guests from overseas. Today's conference, "Autonomous Transport: Paving the Road for Future Mobility" comes at an exciting time for those of us who work at the intersection of technology and transport.

Development of AVs

2.     Autonomous vehicles (AVs), which have previously appeared only in science fiction movies like Blade Runner and I, Robot, are fast becoming a reality. In May this year, Google released a video which revealed the new prototype of its self-driving car. It has no steering wheel, nor gas or brake pedals, and is 100% autonomous. Other companies like Tesla, Daimler and Nissan are also racing to develop AVs.

3.     One hundred driverless pods are set to undergo a trial in the UK town, Milton Keynes. The lightweight two-seater pods will pick up passengers from the local train station and operate within the pedestrianized spaces of the town centre.

Why are AVs exciting?

4.     Why are AVs exciting? Historically, leaps in transport technology have transformed not just the way we travel, but also the way we work and live. The advent of railway in the 19th century integrated the US economy by enabling long supply chains to be laid throughout the country. Cheaper and faster sea and air travel fuelled globalization, bringing countries closer together and expanding the horizons of our work and play.

5.     AV technology has the potential to transform our lives, albeit on a more local scale. For example, instead of driving yourself to work in the morning and being stuck behind the wheel in peak hour traffic, you could use an AV and get a head-start on your emails during the drive. An AV could help your elderly parent get to the clinic. At the end of the day, an AV could pick your kids up from school, instead of you having to do so.

6.     I hasten to add that our ability to envision what technology can do is almost always limited by our imagination. Just the other day, my son was worried sick about having misplaced his iPad. His classmate suggested he check on iCloud and in a matter of minutes, he realised the device was still in school. This is probably a very trivial example, but who could have anticipated this application of Global Positioning Systems when it was invented? Likewise for the AV.

AV visions in Singapore

7.     Hence at MOT, we are very excited about the changes AV can bring to Singapore. In a sense, we are already employing forms of AV technology. The North-East and Downtown MRT lines and the LRT have been using driverless technology to improve punctuality and reduce manpower needs. The people mover systems in Sentosa and the airport are also driverless. However, the AVs in these cases travel on fixed routes. AVs that can travel flexibly to any destination, upon demand, will lead to even more exciting possibilities.

8.     Allow me to share with you possible futures that excite us. First, can AV facilitate car-sharing to such an extent that it transforms the way we view car-ownership? Owning a car is expensive in Singapore. Yet by most accounts, cars are not well-utilised. A survey by LTA revealed that the average car journey carries only 1.4 passengers. And on weekdays, many cars are driven just twice - to the office and back home.

9.     One obstacle to car-sharing is whether the vehicles can be flexibly re-directed from where there is an over-supply to where there is an over-demand. For example, after people have gotten to work in the city centre, can the cars be re-deployed to residential areas for use by people who wish to go grocery shopping, pick up their kids from school, or take their elderly parents to the doctor's? In the evenings, can these vehicles be brought back to the workplaces and used for home-bound travel?

10.   With AV's ability to reposition themselves, thereby making car-sharing more readily accessible, perhaps more of us will decide that there really is no need to own cars. A study by MIT, using Singapore transport data in 2011, has suggested that shared AVs can potentially reduce passenger vehicles to a third, from the current 900,000 to 300,000 passenger vehicles. Better still, of course, if these AVs are environmentally friendly and not emissions-producing.

11.   Secondly, can AVs revolutionize freight transport? Imagine a convoy of trucks where only the lead truck has a driver. The rest of the convoy follows the exact path of the first with a much smaller separation between each truck, compared to the situation today with driven trucks.

12.   Japan's New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) tested a caravan of self-driving trucks. They put four trucks on the road, with the first truck driven by a human, followed by three autonomous trucks. The caravan successfully used technologies for steering, for maintaining speed, and for staying in formation, at a speed of 80km/h with a four-metre distance between each truck. The Netherlands is going a step further. In 5 years, it intends to make even the lead truck driverless in transporting goods between Rotterdam and other major Dutch cities.

13.   In Singapore, PSA Singapore Terminals (PSA) has been working on the development of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) that will operate 24/7 in its future container terminals. These AGVs will be used to transport containers between the quay and the container yard, and would enhance port productivity. Going beyond the port, we can potentially use AVs to transport goods to and from our seaports and airports, thereby improving traffic flows around Loyang, Keppel and Tuas. Another possibility is to use AVs to deliver goods within the city. Because they are driverless, these can be done in the wee hours of the morning. Such AVs are also arguably safer, having no risk of a tired and fatigued driver at the wheels.

14.   Thirdly, can AVs allow us to make towns car-free at the street-level? Imagine a town where the surface is completely car-free. For nearer commutes, people can walk or cycle. For longer intra-town commutes, they can just hop onto an AV pod that runs through an underground network, almost like a personalised MRT. I can tell you that as an MP, I get so many requests for an MRT stop that this will be a dream come true.

15.   To be sure, such a deployment of AVs is technologically at least 10 to 15 years away. In the meantime, we can explore more limited deployments that may not make the towns car-free, but will at least make them car-less. In upcoming new town developments, we can study ideas including dual layered decks within just the town centre with AV feeder services plying one of the decks, or in dedicated lanes.

Not just a dream: turning vision into reality

16.   To develop these and other AV possibilities, there are a number of things we must do. First, we must understand AV technology and how it interacts with our environment in Singapore, and where possible, shape them to our needs. There are already several ongoing AV research and development trials here. The National University of Singapore in partnership with Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been testing a fleet of autonomous golf-buggies within the NUS campus, and also an autonomous car. Later this year, they will test the buggies on the footpaths of the Chinese and Japanese Gardens at Jurong Lake District. The Nanyang Technological University is also testing an autonomous shuttle bus at JTC's Cleantech Park and the NTU campus.

17.   We are also glad to partner with A*STAR to set up a joint partnership under a platform called the Singapore Autonomous Vehicle Initiative, or SAVI for short. In as early as 2008, A*STAR had started conducting R&D in this field, combining its experience and expertise in automotive research and robotic autonomous system capabilities. This joint partnership between LTA and A*STAR is timely and will provide a platform for various stakeholders to collaborate and conduct R&D and test-bedding of AV technology, applications and solutions.

18.   Secondly, we must understand the issues surrounding the potential real-world deployment of AVs. These will include the supporting regulatory, liability and infrastructural requirements. To complement our R&D efforts, we will first set aside a demarcated route in one-north for the testing of AVs. Parties from research organisations or industry interested to test AVs on public roads are invited to apply to LTA-JTC. ST Kinetics, one of our showcase partners today, is the first company to have expressed interest. We will also be working towards a framework to allow AVs that meet safety standards to be tested on all public roads next year.

19.   Thirdly, we need to incorporate AV into future town-planning. Singapore will be the first country to actively do so. As I noted earlier, it may be too early for us to be able to deploy AV massively now, given that the technology is not yet mature. But we can explore doing it in a limited way in the short to medium term for an upcoming town. In so doing, we will be better positioned to create more exciting visions for future towns.

20.   Our dream is to design a totally new mobility concept for a green-field, future town that is about a decade to two away in the making, at which time we think AV technology would have matured sufficiently. Such a new mobility concept could, for example, be centred around walking and cycling as the main modes of intra-town travel, supplemented by environmentally friendly, AV-enabled point-to-point type of public transport.

21.   In our dream town, its surface would be dominated by green and open spaces for residents and pedestrians, and free of the smoke, noise, congestion and safety concerns posed by vehicles today. If we want to turn this dream into reality, we must start our visioning exercise now, well before the first blueprints for the town take shape and the first piles are knocked into the ground.

22.   To do all this, we will set up a Committee on Autonomous Road Transport for Singapore, or CARTS. The staff deliberately chose this acronym to use the irony to heighten the importance of the project. CARTS will take a holistic approach in charting the strategic direction for AV-enabled land mobility concepts. In addition to our public sector members, we have invited a number of renowned international experts, academics and industry members to join our Committee. We've chosen these members based on their experience and expertise in a number of areas, including AV technology, urban planning, new business models and transport solutions.

23.   The visioning work of the Committee will be complemented by the development of the legal, regulatory and liability framework to govern the operations of AVs as well as the industry development and business opportunities for Singapore.

24.   We would very much like members of the public to be involved in this process too. You could ride on the NUS-SMART golf buggy at the Jurong Lake District. Or you could like our Facebook page or email us, and share your ideas about how autonomous vehicles might change the way you travel. We would love to hear from the R&D community, academics and industry as well. Do share your ideas and dreams with CARTS.


25.   We face a great number of mobility challenges but as we strive to make Singapore a Smart Nation, we will find innovative ways of meeting these challenges, through a combination of new technology, new business models and forward-thinking regulation. This is an exciting time, as we work towards our vision of AV-enabled, smart and sustainable mobility for Singaporeans.

26. I wish everyone a successful conference and a productive time of learning and discussion.