Nicola Willey

Regional Director Southeast Asia Science and Innovation

Part of Global Science and Innovation Network

17th October 2016

Self driving cars: Removing the roadblocks

In the global race to develop self driving cars, both Singapore and the UK are in the running. For Singapore, smart cars are part of the Smart Nation future. What better example of a technology that can enhance the lives of citizens, and make smarter use of city infrastructure, than autonomous vehicles? It is no coincidence that self driving cars were name checked in Prime Minister Lee’s National Day Address as an example of disruptive technology. For Singapore, as for the UK, the vision is for self driving cars to help us use our roads and public transport in a smarter way. By taking our hands off the wheel, we can help improve road safety, make better use of land, and give people more access to transport.

The UK comes to the race from a unique starting point. We have some of the largest car manufacturers in the world, with Jaguar Land Rover a manufacturing force in the Midlands, and Nissan expanding in the north. We have a long history of motoring glory. We are the nation that nurtured Jackie Stewart and Lewis Hamilton, the home of Silverstone, and a country where car programmes are prime time viewing.

But we are also a country where new technologies are being produced at a rate that was inconceivable when our motoring revolution began. From our world class Universities, to our booming digital technology sector, to our recognised strengths in innovation, the UK is a leading global player in technology.

With these background conditions in place to support the development of self driving cars, testing is being carried out in the UK. And what makes the UK- and Singapore- stand out is the way in which we are both focussed on helping this technology to get out onto the streets.

Driverless Pods in the UK - image courtesy of Catapult Transport Systems
Driverless Pods in the UK – image courtesy of Catapult Transport Systems

In the UK, autonomous shuttles are running in a two year pilot, the GATEway Project, in Greenwich, south east London;  lightweight pods and cars are being tested in the cities of Milton Keynes  and Coventry as part of the UK Autodrive Project;  and the VENTURER consortium is testing a BAE Systems Wildcat driverless car in Bristol.

Funding supports the development of the industry; earlier this year GBP 20 million was awarded to projects which will drive technological development, and the next competition will award GBP 30 million for the research and development of innovative connected and Autonomous Vehicles technologies.

One of the most interesting elements of our approach in the UK is how we are setting the ground for future real world trials- which will provide the data and the learning on the road to help driverless cars to succeed. In 2015 British Ministers announced the world’s first code of practice that sets the rules for testing of driverless cars, with safety at the forefront. This code of practise gives industry a non-mandatory framework to test their technologies safely, without the need for a bond or permit, and paves the way for British cities to become test beds for the vehicles of the future.

Taken together, the funding and frameworks that have been put in place over the last two years in the UK show strong commitment to removing the roadblocks to full scale deployment of self driving cars. The aim? To realise the potential of self driving cars, and to position the UK at the forefront of the burgeoning intelligent mobility market .

Singapore too has seen exciting developments.  We watched with interest as Nutonomy announced the world’s first self driving taxis. We’ve seen footage of visitors travelling through Gardens by the Bay in driverless shuttles, and of the trials at one north and NTU.  There is much that we can learn from each other’s experience, both in the trials as well as the wider issues that need to be addressed, like driving licenses and insurance.

The UK takes pride in our motoring heritage as well as in our science, and our capacity for new and exciting innovation. With our partners in Singapore we have a unique opportunity to work together to accelerate towards deployment of self driving vehicles.

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