The first iPhone was a technological breakthrough which
changed the way we interact with our phones. More than a decade later, technology
is well on its way to make an impact in our lives yet again. This time, it’s
our self-driving cars, powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI). As UK transport
minister Johns Hayes once said, “driverless cars offer huge benefits to
motorists such as reduced delays and more reliable journey times” (GOV UK,
2017), but are we ready for this change? No doubt it is the future, but
everyone has to play a part to tackle the pressing issues in order to fulfil
the true purpose of driverless vehicles.

 

            With
technological giants across the globe like Google & Apple testing their own
form of autonomous vehicle technology, Singapore is no exception. A committee
was set up by the government back in 2014 to research & develop this technology
(MOT, 2014). Just last year, ride-hailing company Grab & nuTonomy announced
their partnership to bring eco-friendly driverless taxi rides to the public, by
starting an invite-only trial (Annabelle, 2017). As a country with limited
vehicle ownership, this initiative as a good effort to promote the usage of public
transport for road users and to reduce the number of car owners on the road.

 

            Safety
is paramount when it comes to driverless vehicles. A recent study by US-based
non-profit Eno Centre for Transportation showed that if more than 90 percent of
the cars on American roads were driverless, the number of accidents will
decrease from 5.5 million to 1.3 million (Annabelle, 2017). Furthermore, it can
discourage drink driving and provide convenience at the same time. This technology
is further accelerated in Singapore as well, with the government increasing the
exposure of autonomous vehicles trials to public roads (Ng, 2017). This
exposure will allow the AI to adapt and be deeply integrated into society.

 

            However,
the adoption of this new technology has to be carefully looked at, economically.

Specifically, Singaporeans who drive for a living. This shift away from owning
a car can also affect car dealers, insurance providers, and financiers
(Lynette, 2017). It is essential that the government has measures put in place
to curb this issue of AI replacing human drivers, by providing work-related
skills enhancement for affected workers. (Annabelle, 2017). We can relate this
to the competition of taxi drivers with private-hire cars at present. With that
in mind, adoption of driverless vehicles will be gradual because of the many
regulations and policies that has to be put into place before it can be widely
accepted by commuters.

 

            As
we expected, driverless vehicles are far from “accident-proof”. A more prominent
example happened in Las Vegas, where a self-driving bus was involved in a collision
with a truck (The Guardian, 2017). Incidents like this may affect public
confidence, and a survey in UK showed that less than half of its commuters are
willing to put their lives in the hands of a computer (Williams, 2017). Some
also believe that human drivers might take advantage of the safety feature built
into autonomous vehicles, such as cutting its lane constantly, which in turn
causes the AI to stop or slow down for safety, but end up prolonging the travel
time for other road users (Jeremy, 2017). This will further discourage people
from switching to autonomous vehicles.

 

            The
next time you are near the National University of Singapore, look closely,
driverless cars are already ploughing the campus roads. As autonomous vehicles
are going through the trial stages, the government has regulations to put into
place to ensure accidents are minimised (Anabelle, 2017). In order to promote
usage of these vehicles in the future, there should be incentives given to road
users for giving up their car ownership to switch to public transport. There
can be tax rebates, or subsidized cost of usage for autonomous vehicles. That
way, it can be friendlier to both the environment and our wallets.

 

            With
major cities around the world working on efforts to reduce traffic congestion &
reducing carbon emissions, autonomous vehicles are becoming an increasingly popular
solution. Cooperation between companies and the government is crucial in order
to well-prepare these vehicles for everyone’s usage in the future. All factors
like safety, cost and integration must each be carefully studied and looked at
before it can earn the public’s trust. In that way, we can truly achieve a
working and sustainable society for future generations.