The state of autonomous vehicles in Southeast Asia

How do countries in the ASEAN bloc measure up in the race for driverless cars?

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Throughout Asia and the rest of the world, it’s no secret that Singapore is leading the global race in autonomous vehicle development.

The city state has long been seen as a centre for innovation, embracing emerging technologies long before most other countries.

Functioning as a hot bed for startups determined to launch the first fully-functioning, autonomous vehicle, Singapore’s impeccable road infrastructure, limited congestion and newly introduced autonomous vehicle legislation means it’s the perfect place to test out this new technology.

Trials for self-driving taxis have already been underway for close to two years and the government has already announced it hopes to have autonomous buses on the streets of Singapore by 2022.

As the country continues to march forward in this global arena, it appears the other countries throughout the ASEAN bloc have been left in the dust. But is this the case? We decided to take a look at the autonomous vehicle landscape throughout the rest of Southeast Asia.

The Philippines

The Philippines already has a smart cities development underway, Clark Global City which would act as the perfect terrain for autonomous vehicles.

Those involved in the projects are keen to ensure that the framework for driverless cars are baked into the foundations of the development, providing a space where technology startups can launch and thrive.

However, the Filipino Insurance Commission has warned the government that if a cohesive environment for driverless cars is to be achieved, there first needs to be a comprehensive overhaul of certain laws.

Current Filipino regulations don’t address the various concerns associated with autonomous vehicles and the insurance industry is worried about potential repercussions once this technology becomes a staple on roads throughout the Philippines. 

Thailand

Thailand has long been considered the automation production centre of Southeast Asia but, when it comes to the adoption of automotive technologies, the country is often found lagging behind its regional peers.

Currently, there are three main barriers thought to be hindering the introduction of driverless cars on Thai roads. Firstly, Thai regulations are largely incompatible with autonomous vehicles, meaning champions of the technology are unable to take test cars out in public.

Secondly, compared to a country like Singapore, infrastructure in Thailand is sub-standard.

In some parts of the country, poor urban planning means roads have not always been laid out according to original plans, meaning navigational systems are prone to inaccuracies. Additionally, traffic lights and road signs throughout the region can often be misleading.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the market for driverless cars does not yet exist in Thailand.

Although the country has a larger population than Singapore and Vietnam, unlike the city state, it is not regarded as an early adopter of emerging technologies.

As driverless cars become less experimental, there’s every chance they’ll make there way onto the streets of Thailand.

Unfortunately, the country currently has no plans to push forward with this project itself.

Indonesia

In August, The Association of Indonesian Automotive Manufacturers (Gaikindo) held a ten-day expo to show off some innovations from the automotive sector.

This provided an opportunity for the latest advancements in Indonesia’s automotive technology to be shown off to the world, alongside some of the biggest names in automotive manufacturing.

However, not everyone is convinced the roads of Jakarta are quite ready for self-driving cars.

Congestion is one of the biggest problems facing drivers in Indonesia and there are concerns that some of the biggest developers of autonomous vehicles in the US haven’t taken enough time to research their effectiveness on the roads of non-Western countries.

Malaysia

Back in 2016, Malaysian based research and development company, REKA, decided to embark on a mission to make its home country a big name in the autonomous vehicle space.

Determined to produce their own self-driving technology, the team developed a chip that was then inserted into a car along with sensors, GPS and video technology.

With two passengers in the back seats and no driver, the autonomous vehicle was able to successfully travel from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka.

The team have continued to develop increasingly sophisticated prototypes since that first incarnation and back in March, the Malaysian government announced it intends to capitalise on the advancements in autonomous vehicle technology by running a research and development programme until 2025.

Malaysia is also the birthplace of ride-sharing app, Grab. Originally thought to be ASEAN’s answer to Uber, Grab acquired the US company’s Southeast Asian operations back in March, making it the biggest ride-sharing app throughout the region.

Now offering its services in Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Myanmar, and Cambodia; Grab partnered with Singapore-based company nuTonomy in order to develop and test autonomous technology. Grab expects its self-driving taxis on roads throughout Southeast Asia before 2022.

Vietnam

Not looking to be left behind, earlier this year the Vietnamese government gave the green light to a request from FTP Software to run a driverless car pilot scheme in Vietnam’s hi-tech zones and software parks.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Transport sees the development of autonomous vehicles to be in alignment with Industry 4.0, a strategy they are keen to promote. According to FTP Software, the cars can travel at 25 km per hour and use various techniques such as radar, GPS, and computer vision to monitor their surroundings, automatically break and avoid obstacles.

Brunei and Laos

Malaysian taxi firm Grab has announced plans to break ground in Brunei and Laos in 2018.

Currently, the only countries to remain untouched by the company, if Grab does launch in the two countries as promised, they could also see the company’s self-driving taxis on the road before too long.