Strategic Futurists; Value Systems Specialists

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Singapore's Driverless Taxis - a Mistake in the making?

Friday 15 April 2016

Sometimes what seems like a really good idea turns out to be less so. Despite all the potential benefits I have a strong personal view that any push to take the Singapore Taxi service into the realm of driverless vehicles would be of significantly less benefit to Singapore than what it thinks. And though Driverless vehicles in Singapore seems a straightforward step, taxis would be the wrong area. Here's why

Singapore has some significant advantages for pursuing the development of driverless vehicles. For starters, as a relatively small peninsula state, it's geography allows it to manage any infrastructure changes that might be needed. Secondly it is a country controlled effectively by a National Government which has a proven track record of success in dealing with large scale fundamental change. Singapore's push toward being highly connected was a Government initiative that has delivered exceptional results. Its push toward fresh water independence is world leading. It has great infrustructure, a good road network and a population that is generally onside.

Thirdly, Singapore's approach to education is one that demands excellence. I've been lucky enough to have met with and worked with people of all ages in a couple of Departments. They are smart, committed and passionate people. Singapore has no shortage of intellectual capability able to bring autonomous vehicles to the fore. Fourth, Singapore likes autonomous vehicles. All of its excellent train network is autonomous and works like the proverbial precision watch.

So it's fair to say that with a great track record or large scale projects, excellent telecommunications network vital to delivering autonomous cars, smart people and a committed Government, moving toward autonomous taxis would be a shoe-in, right?

Yes it would. And it would be wrong. I've spent a total of about twenty minutes in private cars in Singapore. I've spent the equivalent of days using the public transport and taxi offerings. And here's the thing about taxis - in EVERY taxi trip I had, I got to talk to someone about a hawkers market I had to try or the gardens I had to visit or the island I needed to see or the festival that was on. The taxi may have been taking me from A to B but the Taxi driver was telling me about Singapore and the things I should do. Taxi drivers weren't just taxi drivers, they were tour guides, they were referrals, they were living, breathing advertisers for Singapore. They encouraged me to go out and spend more money and I did.

Now the Bus network is a different thing altogether. Clean, efficient, on time. And like the train network, consistent. It makes much more sense to me for Singapore to seek an autonomous and driverless bus network. That I'd understand and get. But it's not the biggest opportunity here. Singapore likes to keep its smart people close doing meaningful things. It seeks opportunities to develop its economy, to make leaps not shuffles. Which is why the big idea potential is neither taxis, nor buses.

It's Private vehicles. Specifically, luxury private vehicles. Buying a new car in Singapore is expensive. Really expensive. Which means the costs of bringing in a new cheaper quality car aren't much better than bringing in a new expensive car. And expensive cars are brand name cars, they're marquee cars. If Singapore wants to go down the autonomous vehicle route it should insist that as of say 2021, ALL new cars MUST be Autonomous. 

Doing so would see a stampede of luxury car brands setting up their engineering shops in Singapore. It'd see Universities and their engineering departments in high demand. It'd see new spending from those who drive those luxury cars. Singapore would literally become the most advanced car nation in the world.


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