The city-state of Singapore also is undertaking work on developing AVs because it has a pressing need to improve urban mobility, bearing in mind it has a population density of nearly 3,014 persons per sq.-mile (7,807 per sq.-km) and a limited land area of just 1,780 sq.-m (720 ha).

Touching on the challenges facing Singapore, Niels de Boer, program director of the Centre of Excellence for Testing & Research of AVs at the country’s Nanyang Technological University, says there will not be sufficient space for the current “12% of land used for roads” to be increased in tandem with population growth.

Competing land use aside, he highlights the issue of “manpower constraints, as the average age of public transport personnel is over 40 years.”

Singapore envisions “a new paradigm for urban logistics,” de Boer says. Upon successful trials, a new generation of autonomous buses will pave the way toward greater road safety and reliability of public transport, he predicts. The aim is for autonomous bus services to be integrated with a network of driverless vehicles that could include self-driving taxis and autonomous car sharing, thereby making personal vehicle usage unnecessary. The vision for autonomous vehicles also includes the freight and utility sectors.

As early as 2013, Nanyang Tech began operating a self-driving electric shuttle within its campus and the neighboring CleanTech Park. The knowledge gained is being used to develop two electric hybrid buses that will operate between NTU and CleanTech Park with a possible link to the island country’s east-west mass rapid transport system.

In 2015, regulatory changes were made to allow for testing of autonomous taxis to operate within Singapore’s One North, a 494-acre (200-ha) research and business park. Key milestones have been defined for the testing of autonomous vehicles.

Passing the first milestone allows for trial of vehicles at One North, while the second milestone signifies approval to operate outside the test site, for which regulations will have taken effect in mid-2017. Definition of the third milestone is still a work in progress, according to de Boer.

Tentative timeline indications are for prototype demonstration trials involving autonomous buses and shared driverless cars for first mile-last mile travel during 2016-17. It will lead to operational trials in 2018-19 at One North and beyond, and subsequently to pilot deployments from 2020.

The societal and economic benefits are not the only push factors for the development of AVs, which are expected to drastically reduce accidents globally, as past surveys show human errors account for 90% of accidents, according to speakers at the Singapore conference.