Writing emails, reading the newspaper and watching movies will be part of everyday car journeys in the future. The vehicles of tomorrow will be self-driving – no human driver will wield the controls, but instead a computer will change gears, steer, brake and accelerate. The benefits will be fewer accidents and traffic jams and safer driving. While many of today’s manufacturers already offer assistance systems that manage the car in an increasing number of road situations, the era of fully autonomous cars is still some way up the road. And this is where Singapore is currently setting new standards. With an area of just 719 km² inhabited by 5.6 million people, Singapore must set high requirements of any driverless vehicles operating within its densely populated urban environment. Mastery of these requirements will have applications far beyond its shores.
TÜV SÜD and Singapore set standards for the automated driving revolution
Making autonomous vehicles safe for both users and pedestrians is one of the major challenges to be overcome: when computers drive and algorithms steer through road traffic, stringent digital test methods are required to ensure their road readiness. Although technology is advancing towards this goal at lightning speed, independent inspection authorities need to evaluate whether or not this will suffice. This is where TÜV SÜD, in collaboration with the Southeast Asian state of Singapore, plays a driving role. The internationally active Munich-based testing organisation is closely associated with the CETRAN project (Centre of Excellence for Testing and Research of Autonomous Vehicles – NTU) in Singapore, which is developing testing standards in conurbations for driverless cars. Together with other partner organisations including the Land Transport Authority of Singapore (LTA) and the Future Mobility Research Lab – a BMW Group research facility, they aim to create conditions for country-wide Autonomous Vehicles (AV) operationality within the next ten to fifteen years.
Ideal test conditions
The best technology and favourable prices are of no use if autonomous vehicles do not find broad acceptance with the intended customer. In this context, Singapore has a unique attribute that makes it an ideal place to study and advance the field of autonomous driving: its openness to new technologies. Within the current Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index 2019 (AVRI), published by KPMG, Singapore was ranked second in terms of overall readiness after the Netherlands, and took top positions for policy and legislation, as well as consumer acceptance. Amongst the Government-led initiatives that have spearheaded developments in AV technologies here, the AVRI report highlighted the amendment of the Road Traffic Act in 2017 to facilitate trials of AVs. The recently announced plans to roll out 5G mobile networks by 2020, that will enable the commercial application of AVs also found recognition, as well as the pilot deployment of AVs in the several industrial districts from 2022.
This is one of several pilots that the government of the city-state has already launched to promote the development of autonomous driving, with other experiments including driverless lorries, and a self-driving shuttle bus service on resort island Sentosa that commenced in August 2019.
An ecosystem to support research
A major reason why Singapore succeeds in bringing such pioneering projects onto the streets is not least due to the unique research landscape that is available. For example, local universities such as the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) function as R&D hotspots. The first ever local public trials of self-driving vehicles were conducted by the SMART team in October 2014, and were preceded by earlier pilots of self-driving buggies that commenced in 2010. Today, they operate an electric car that has been equipped with new tools to support increasingly complex testing, and is approved for all public roads in Singapore.
To make these autonomous prototypes possible, the SMART team uses high-resolution LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors, which provide information at millisecond intervals about surrounding road users and their individual distance, speed and direction of movement. LIDAR allows a 270-degree view of the self-driving vehicle’s surroundings – which is more than the human eye can manage.
Sophisticated technology like this and ambitious projects around autonomous driving require not only renowned research institutions with highly qualified employees, but also close cooperation and exchange of knowledge with innovative partners from industry. This is why SMART is holding talks with automobile companies such as Audi, BMW, VW and is in constant contact with firms in the supplier sector like SICK – one of the world’s leading manufacturers of intelligent sensors and sensor solutions. The research team is also maintaining a lively academic exchange with German universities and research institutes, for example with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology KIT.
These examples demonstrate how Singapore has been working with forward-thinking companies to develop and implement global solutions that will take the mobility industry to the next level of evolution. If you would like to learn more about the research landscape, the available state-of-the-art infrastructure, the vital start-up ecosystem and the large selection of technologically experienced talents in Singapore, we recommend reading the magazine “SingaPur”, which can be downloaded here free of charge. Companies such as DHL, Schenker, Airbus, Daimler, TÜV SÜD and others report on their goals, activities and experiences in the field of autonomous driving, electromobility and logistics.