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Singapore Emerges as Autonomous Vehicles Test Bed

by Angelos Lakrintis | 8月 15, 2016

Singapore Open for Self-Driving Car Testing

During this year we have seen major activities in Asia in the area of autonomous vehicles. These have ranged from driverless shuttles that operate autonomously around airports, university campuses and shopping malls to the development of fully-autonomous cars with the ability to be hailed and can operate as a taxi service.

Much press attention has been focused on the big OEMs centred in Japan and South Korea, but one country that has been attracting companies both big and small in order to do research, development, testing and validation of their technology is Singapore.

NuTonomy Operating in the Streets

NuTonomy is a small start-up, spinoff company from MIT that is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts with their research and development and operations being solely conducted in Singapore.

The company is working closely with SMART (Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology). .  The goal and vision of this organisation is to improve Singapore and its residents’ lifestyles through the use of emerging technologies.

Recently nuTonomy announced an investment of $16 million in funding in order to be able to achieve the goal of NHTSA Level 4 autonomous vehicles with fleet management capabilities and hailing features.

NuTonomy has a strong connection with the Singapore’s city-state. The company initially began testing autonomous golf-cart style vehicles with autonomous capabilities back in 2014. These vehicles could be summoned by a smartphone app and move around the university’s campus.

In 2016, nuTonomy plans to launch a small scale pilot case study of a fully autonomous on-demand mobility system in One North, a business park in Singapore near the national university. The company is planning to release a full scale NHTSA Level 4 autonomous fleet of vehicles in the city-state during the year 2017 and commercialise the deployment of these vehicles in Singapore by 2018.

Strategy Analytics believes that the timeline is very optimistic for the company to deploy a big scale fleet in the country in such a short time simply because the testing, data gathering, troubleshooting and the solutions to make a more robust platform will consume a lot more time than the expected.

nutonomy

Delphi Wants In Too

Delphi Automotive announced that it will launch a pilot program with a fleet of six automated vehicles in Singapore by 2017. The vehicles will only travel on a designated route in one district, and a driver will have to be present in order to observe the vehicle, document the behaviour and of course take control if an error occurs.

The vehicles currently have steering wheels and pedals but by 2019 Delphi wants to eliminate the use of external inputs from the driver. Delphi’s vision is to have a fleet of 50 vehicles that users can hail with an app embedded in their smartphones and travel beyond the designated route inside the city.

Delphi is a global supplier of technologies for the automotive and commercial vehicle market. It provides both software and hardware to OEM’s. The race in the autonomous driving for the company started in 2015 with the debut of two fully autonomous vehicle platforms.  With its retrofitted Audi SQ5, Delphi claims to have developed the first car of its kind to drive from US coast-to-coast autonomously.

The first vehicles that will operate in Singapore will consist of those Audi SQ5’s. The extended group of cars will consist mainly of electric vehicles.

The system architecture that currently is running on the Delphi’s autonomous vehicles is called Delphi Drive and is a combination of sensor fusion , human-machine-interface and the vehicles are retrofitted with a total of 25 sensors of various types like Radars, cameras, LiDAR’s and ultrasonic sensors.

Delphi Drive is an ongoing project that is being updated constantly but the main features that this technology covers are:

  • Delphi Drive: The vehicle adapts to the traffic surroundings to unexpected driver behaviour.
  • Vehicle-to-pedestrian interaction: Automatic pedestrian detection and autonomous braking.
  • Vehicle-to-traffic light communication: The vehicle can anticipate light changes before they happen and respond accordingly.
  • Blind spot detection: Improved software/ sensors will detect “sense” other vehicles approaching at 5-pount or other unusual intersections otherwise invisible to a human driver.
  • Ride-sharing notification: Smartphone app interaction that shows the location of an Uber or Lyft car.
Delphi SQ5

New Testing Centre for Autonomous Vehicles

Since the collaboration with the city-state of Singapore with the two automotive companies Delphi and nuTonomy, Singapore’s Land Transport Authority has launched a new autonomous vehicle research and development centre.

It is very important for an autonomous vehicle to be in a safe and controlled area rather than in a crowded city centre - at least for the first years of research and development of these shared transport self-driving vehicles. The partners that approved the launch of this new Centre of Excellence for Testing and Research of Autonomous Vehicles (CETRAN) are the Land Transport Authority in partnership with the industrial estates JTC and the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore.

Singapore CETRAN test circuit

Very similar to the MCity in Michigan which the department of Mobility Transformation Centre of the University of Michigan is running the facility, the Nanyang Technological University will be responsible for all the activities of the CETRAN:

  • Operating the test circuit,
  • Evaluating the self-driving vehicle prototypes that will be tested on site,
  • Ensure and approve that the vehicles have the ability to manoeuvre and in local conditions,
  • Obey traffic rules,
  • Cope with traffic behaviour, road design and the weathers tropical climate.

 

 The centre is expected to be operational by the second half of 2017.

BMW is Active in the City-State

BMW has been experimenting with a lot of different ADAS and autonomous technologies, from production NHTSA Level 2 type assistance systems to the recently-announced autonomous vehicle platform that is beinmg developed jointly with Intel and Mobileye.

In a recent announcement, BMW’s Group Asia managing director Axel Pannes, explained that BMW is working closely in the city-state of Singapore and with the Nanyang Technological University of Singapore in order to test and develop the technology for autonomous and connected cars which will be commercially available in around a decade from now. He also stated that Singapore is one of the most ideal places to test fully-autonomous vehicles because it is becoming a megacity of the future.

Google’s Rumoured Activities in Singapore

Google has a very strong presence in the self-driving car sector. Since 2010 Google has been experimenting with a lot of different technologies in order to achieve its goal of fully autonomous driving. In 2016 with more than 3 million miles of driving experience on the roads and a fleet of 58 cars, Google is still one of the first companies to implement NHTSA level 4 autonomy on the roads.

In a recent article, it was rumoured that the founders of Google Sergey Brin and Larry Page were seen in Singapore in order to discuss the infrastructure and the engineering force in the city-state. It is true that Singapore is achieving higher rate of technology advancements in their infrastructure than any other country but it is not clear as of now the reason of the founders visit in the city-state.

Why Companies are Moving to Singapore

Singapore is emerging as a competitive test bed for Self-Driving Car pilot program for a number of reasons:

  • It is a particular small country hence mapping and updating can be achieved in a fast rate.
  • It is mostly urban.
  • Weather conditions are ideal, with no snow.
  • It is a city-state.  There is only one level of government versus the local, state and federal as it is in the US.
  • The adoption of new technology in Singapore is very fast; people own, understand and can handle technology faster than in many other countries.
  • Also from the resident’s point of view, there are only 15 percent of Singaporeans that owns a car due to high taxes and overvalued fees that makes car ownership in the city quite expensive.  The state has a keen interest in developing next generation personal transportation that keeps both its citizens and its economy moving.
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