Interest in driverless cars is high among Asia-Pacific consumers. Over 50% would consider buying or hiring an autonomous vehicle, according to an Intel/Inuit study. Reasons cited include the environment, more enjoyable commuting, and easier parking.
It may be a while before driverless cars are on APAC’s roads. However, there are plenty of initiatives already under way. Let’s take a look at some…
Japan is home to the world’s third-largest automobile industry (behind China and the US).
Naturally, there’s been plenty of driverless-related innovation from manufacturers. For example, Subaru and its EyeSight technology. Using cameras mounted inside the car, the system monitors traffic, alerts drivers if they drift out of their lane, and even applies the brakes to avert collisions. Of course, these are early days.
There isn’t yet enough data for most insurance companies to evaluate the impact of this technology on car premiums However, things are changing, as shown by the 2016 launch of the UK’s first ever driverless car policy.
Singapore is the ideal place to test out driverless cars.
There’s a relatively small land mass, flat roads, and high support from the government, which has invested in innovators such as nuTonomy. The startup creates software for autonomous vehicles, and has linked up with Europe’s second-largest car manufacturer, PSA Group.
The partnership is currently trialling the technology in the Peugeot 3008, across Singapore’s streets, with long-term plans of delivering driverless car fleets in the US and Europe.
Another nuTonomy-led initiative centres on driverless taxis, and a partnership with Grab. Described as ‘the Uber of South East Asia’, the company offers an app for customers to hail an autonomous vehicle. Tests took place in Autumn 2016, in an area designated for testing.
Driverless trucks have been making headlines in Australia since 2015. That’s when Rio Tinto started transporting iron ore using 69 driverless trucks, controlled by remote controllers. The mining company’s fleet operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, saving an estimated 500 work hours annually.
However, government representatives still believe ‘it will be some decades before there is a fully driverless vehicle that can drive in all situations without monitoring by a human driver’.
One of the most densely populated cities in the world, Hong Kong offers unique challenges to the driverless industry. Pioneering carmaker Tesla’s Autopilot technology has been given the green light to be used – but not in urban areas. According to Liu Ming of the Robotics Institute at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, ‘it’s easier to drive on the highway in driverless mode than to drive at a comparatively low speed in an environment where there are pedestrians, motorbikes and bicycles in front of the car. For this kind of situation, at the moment, it’s not easy for (autopilot technology) to deal with,”.
This technology doesn’t just apply to vehicles. Japan is aiming to have self-driving ships up and floating by 2025. Artificial Intelligence technology will steer the ‘smart ships’, while IoT devices will collect data to help select the optimum journey based on weather forecasts, obstacles, and general shipping details.
Of course, APAC is at the very start of its relationship with driverless cars. However, the region’s many initiatives show it’s on the right road. And with 60% of the world’s population, it’s easy to see development accelerating, as companies gather more data on users to build up the necessary data sets to capitalise on machine learning and AI.