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S'pore Has First Self-Driving Vehicle Accident, Ignites Debate On If We're Driverless-Ready Or Not

Autonomous vehicles are not a new concept in Singapore, and we’ve done a fair share of coverage on the Land Transport Authority’s (LTA) enthusiasm in exploring the technology.

Currently, there are two autonomous vehicle companies announced to be doing their trails in Singapore, but nuTonomy has been a frontrunner, and has even partnered up with popular ride-hailing app Grab to give selected users a chance to “experience the full end-to-end experience of e-hailing and riding in a self-driving vehicle (SDV)”.

The public trial is slated to take place for two months.

Along with the selected passenger(s), a nuTonomy safety driver and support engineer would also ride along to “observe system performance and ensure passenger comfort and safety”.

The rides are free-of-charge, and other than simply zipping around the trial area of one-north, adjacent neighbourhoods would also be possible destinations, albeit the safety driver needing to take over once they’re out of testing grounds.

While the trials seem to be taking place rather smoothly, nuTonomy might have encountered its first bump on the road.

First (Reported?) Self-Driving Car Accident In Singapore

Yesterday, a photo on Facebook page Singapore Taxi Driver revealed what seems like Singapore’s first self-driving car accident.

As to what actually happened, the poster ventured a guess:

Image Credit: Mothership
Image Credit: Mothership

Soon, LTA stepped in to address the situation:

Image Credit: LTA Facebook
Image Credit: LTA Facebook

To break the silence, nuTonomy told The Straits Times that the car was on a test drive, and travelling at “low speed” when the accident occured. It also had 2 engineers on board – with one behind the wheel as a safety driver.

As for the actual cause of the accident, LTA, the Police, and nuTonomy are said to still be investigating.

Singaporeans React

The accident had received polarising comments, with some saying that it’s just proof that such technology is more a bane than boon:

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“My foot.”
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“Spend so much taxpayers money on useless projects.”
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“Act-smart nation.”
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“Obviously passenger safety is not in their mind.”

However, some have come out to offer an alternative view, saying that accidents on the road are a dime in a dozen – especially because the technology is still in its infancy stage:

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“Everyday also have accidents on the road.”
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“I think we will get there eventually.”
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“We all know that machines do fail at times”

Some even took the chance to take a dig at reckless Singaporean drivers:

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“Most cars there driver faster than the driverless car”
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“I think the programmers forgot to take into account that in SG […] the car behind will accelerate instead of giving way”

Are We Moving Too Quickly Towards A Driverless Future?

Perhaps in light of the incident, LTA and the rest of us can heed the advice of Dr Park Byung Joon, a SIM University senior lecturer in urban transport management, who told The Straits Times that accidents as such aren’t actually surprising, given the unpredictability of human behaviour.

“Humans don’t always behave the way they should on the roads. And technology is not advanced enough to pre-empt how humans would behave.”

He even said that Singapore “may be too optimistic in thinking autonomous vehicles will soon be a common sight on the roads, [and that possibility is] at least a decade or two away.”

With driverless taxis are set to hit our roads in 2018, the Government looking into self-driving street-cleaning vehicles, and just this morning, LTA announcing that it is working with NTU to implement self-driving bus tests, the accident could potentially put brakes on the acceleration towards a future where the need for hired (and eventually, private) drivers is reduced.

Personally, I think that driverless tech will be a success eventually, but for them to be completely compatible alongside human-driven vehicles…that would take much longer than just 2 years.

 

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