Singapore will have generated sufficient data to draft regulations about self-driving vehicles by the end of this year after undertaking an innovative project in a bid to bring cutting-edge driverless technology to the city.
An enormous database is being generated at a specially-constructed ‘mini-town’ that operates exclusively with autonomous vehicles at Nanyang Technological University in the west of the city-state.
The data being gathered at the two-hectare site, which opened in November, should allow the city-state’s government to draft regulations for autonomous vehicles in the second half of this year, Lee Chuan Teck, the former deputy secretary at Singapore’s Ministry of Transport, told Bloomberg.
“We’re probably the only country that’s looking at this in such a proactive and systematic way,” Lee said. “What we’re looking at is actually deploying regulations.
“Nobody else is putting all three pieces – the trials, the regulations, and the town planning – together.”
The end game is to be at the front of the pack in terms of deploying driverless public transport on a widespread basis, with Singapore highlighting the steps that are being made by smart cities, as well as vehicle manufacturers, to try and stay ahead of the competition.
The university itself hopes to start driverless routes on campus by 2019 while autonomous buses in off-peak periods have been earmarked for three residential areas away from downtown Singapore by 2022. Next year, the Ministry of Transport, in partnership with state-run Singapore Technologies Engineering, will initiative trials of an autonomous shuttle service on Sentosa, a resort island.
Trial by data
The test town itself has everything Singapore uses on its public roads: traffic lights, bus stops, pedestrian crossings and intersections, as well as hills, a rain machine and mock skyscrapers, all designed to test the vehicles’ sensors to the maximum.
The speed limit is set at between 20 and 25 kilometres per hour due to the high number of hazards and night-time trials will begin soon at the site, which is currently open for five days per week, with up to four vehicles at any time navigating around the mini-town.
More than 10 manufacturers have deployed vehicles at the test site, including French electric and autonomous cars specialist Navya, which has put a 15-passenger minibus on the circuit.
Two more buses from Volvo are set to be added to the site in early 2019, according to the university’s programme director for future mobility solutions, Niels de Boer.
Aside from the location, power and speed data being generated by the vehicles themselves and crunched by analysts, seven 360-degree cameras are constantly streaming live video coverage of the test site to the Land Transport Authority’s Intelligent Transport Systems Centre.
One area in which extreme data management is required in order to refine driverless technology is when a destination’s unpredictable weather conditions are considered.
According to the report, about 70 per cent of the vehicles at the site have struggled with their sensors when the rain machine has been switched to downpour mode – a regular occurrence in real-life Singapore.
Moreover, rolling out the technology beyond the two-hectare site into the streets of the city-state will bring its own significant data-management challenges in the coming years.
However, with testing continuing for the time being in what De Boer describes as a “controlled environment”, Singapore is leading the charge of smart cities worldwide as the driverless revolution gets ever closer.
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