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Singapore to study use of AVs as 'robotaxis'

Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) is studying using autonomous vehicles (AVs) as a viable mode of transport that could save time, improve efficiency and keep the entire city-state moving with just 30% of the cars currently on its roads. The government agency is working with the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) to test a fleet of driverless buggies in the Jurong Lake District by the end of this year. The driverless Shared Computer Operated Transport (SCOT) car has been developed by SMART and the National University of Singapore (NUS) and is now is operationally-ready for use on public roads. Unlike other driverless cars, which are retrofitted with expensive 3D laser sensors, it relies on low-cost off-the-shelf LIDAR sensors, which enable the car to drive autonomously, independent of a Global Positioning System (GPS). This feature allows it to drive even in tunnels and places where GPS signals would be hindered.

The pilot is the result of a research paper, entitled Toward a Systematic Approach to the Design and Evaluation of Automated Mobility-on-Demand Systems: A Case Study in Singapore’ which was co-authored by SMART’s lead investigator, Professor Emilio Frazzoli, business analysis associate, Daniel Morton. The researchers applied their methods to extensive Singapore government data on travel patterns, traffic flows and road networks to simulate a large-scale robotaxi system. The team developed rigorous methods to determine fleet sizing and manage robotaxi routing, while ensuring attractive service levels. Rather than just replacing car traffic, the researchers show that a robotaxi system could handle all transportation needs; including private and public cars, taxis, scooters, buses and trains. Their analysis showed that a fleet of 250,000 robotaxis could replace all modes of personal transportation and fulfill the transportation needs of the entire Singapore population.

Maximum wait times with a fleet of this size are about 30 minutes during rush hours; and significantly lower during non-peak periods. Journeys would be approximately the same as current travel times. Increasing the fleet to 300,000 vehicles brings maximum wait times down to less than 15 minutes. Currently, there are about 800,000 passenger vehicles in Singapore. “If it comes through, it will provide Singapore another form of transport from what we already have now,” said Chua Chong Kheng, LTA’s deputy chief executive. “Benefits to such driverless vehicles are numerous. It would allow the elderly and the less mobile more flexibility to move around; provide a good first and last-mile connection; and in the case of driverless buses, remove the heavy reliance on manpower.”

June 5, 2014

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