Singapore will begin its first neighborhood-wide testing of driverless vehicles this March, as it looks to become the first country in the world to deploy them on a large scale.
The country “is exploring how AVs [autonomous vehicles] can meet our transport needs while preparing our environment for their eventual deployment into our land transport system,” the Singapore government said in a statement. Here's a map:
Owning a car is expensive in Singapore, easily running into six figures thanks to various fees and taxes. At the same time, the average car carries just 1.4 passengers, and on weekdays many are only driven twice—to and from work, the country's transport ministry says.
A study by MIT, using Singapore transport data in 2011, suggested that shared AVs can potentially reduce passenger vehicles to a third, from the current 900,000 to 300,000 passenger vehicles.
“With AVs’ ability to reposition themselves, thereby making car-sharing more readily accessible, perhaps more of us will decide that there really is no need to own cars,” Josephine Teo, Senior Minister of State for Transport and Finance, said in a speech last summer.
The National University of Singapore, in collaboration with MIT, began limited testing on the former’s campus in early 2014. Here's what it looked like:
And here's one guy testing out its brakes:
Germany had a test program going in 2011 for Berlin but it remains in a prototype phase. And 100 driverless pods are set to undergo a trial in the U.K. town Milton Keynes, part of a larger program to make the country a hub for driverless cars.
That means Singapore is likely to be the first to have enough driverless cars to meet much of the demand in its most dense areas. The country already uses driverless trains, which have "improve[d] punctuality and reduce[d] manpower needs," Teo has said.
"Singapore has always been at forefront of innovation and mobility," Carlo Ratti, the director of MIT's Senseable City Lab who is working with the Singapore government on the program, told Fusion. "This is the next thing."
The country says it will also be the first country to actively incorporate AVs into town planning, with the goal of designing towns centered around walking and cycling, "supplemented by environmentally friendly, AV-enabled point-to-point type of public transport."
"In our dream town, its surface would be dominated by green and open spaces for residents and pedestrians, and free of the smoke, noise, congestion and safety concerns posed by vehicles today."
In the most radical vision, the AVs will run underground.
"Imagine a town where the surface is completely car-free," Teo said. "For nearer commutes, people can walk or cycle. For longer intra-town commutes, they can just hop onto an AV pod that runs through an underground network, almost like a personalised [subway]."
Rob covers business, economics and the environment for Fusion. He previously worked at Business Insider. He grew up in Chicago.