Published: December 24, 2014 | Singapore
As driverless cars edge slowly toward commercial reality, some people are wondering how cities might change as a result. Will traffic lights disappear? Will parking garages become obsolete? Will carpooling become the norm?
Singapore is keen to find out. The city-state will open one of its neighborhoods to driverless cars in 2015, with the idea that such vehicles could operate as a kind of jitney service, picking up passengers and taking them to trains or other modes of public transportation. The vehicles might be like golf carts, taking people short distances at low speeds, similar to the driverless vehicles demonstrated this year by Google.
The government wants to explore whether autonomous vehicles could reduce congestion and remake the city into one built around walking, bicycling, and public transit. Singapore welcomes industry and academia to deploy automated vehicles for testing under real traffic conditions on public roads. – Lam Wee Shann, director of the futures division for Singapore’s Ministry of Transport
Singapore is aggressively trying to discourage car traffic. For example, if you want to own a car in Singapore you have to pay a “certificate of entitlement” fee that’s roughly equal to the price of a car. It also offers free travel on city trains before peak periods (along with free breakfast vouchers).
Through the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, the city has had pilot tests of driverless cars for several years, starting with two driverless golf carts on the campus of the National University of Singapore. This year it added a Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car, retrofitted to be autonomous. A driverless bus called the Navia is used as a shuttle at Singapore’s Cleantech eco-industrial park and on campus at Nanyang Technology University.
This fall, people in Singapore were able to try out driverless cars for the first time. Driverless buggies were deployed in the Chinese and Japanese gardens in the Jurong Lake District. The system featured an online booking system and vehicle-to-vehicle communications. The buggies ran for two weekends, and carried 500 people over 400 kilometers in total.
Cities with driverless cars could eventually eliminate mainstays like traffic lights. Paolo Santi, a senior researcher with the MIT/Fraunhofer ambient mobility initiative, said at the MIT event that his lab has done simulations showing that twice as many driverless cars could route themselves through intersections, easing congestion and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions caused by stop-and-go driving. Santi hopes to carry out experiments in Singapore to see how pedestrians and bikes affect driverless cars at intersections.
Source: MIT Technology Review