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Driving into a smart mobility future

Nurdianah Md Nur
Nurdianah Md Nur • 9 min read
Driving into a smart mobility future
What will it take for EVs and AVs to become mainstream in Singapore? Photo: Audi
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Despite being a small country, Singapore needs an efficient transportation infrastructure to run smoothly to counter its land scarcity issue. It also aims to implement smart mobility solutions that are also sustainable, as estimates suggest that cities account for over 70% of global CO2 emissions, with transport being a major contributor.

These are part of Smart Mobility 2030, a master plan outlining how Singapore will develop its intelligent transport systems. How much progress has the republic made since it announced that plan in 2014?

“Singapore is well ahead of the global curve when it comes to urban mobility, ranking third globally in The 2021 Urban Mobility Readiness Index by management consulting firm Oliver Wyman and first in Asia Pacific. Thanks to a combination of long-term planning, continued investment in infrastructure, and readiness to adopt new technologies, Singapore has established one of the most efficient and connected transport systems,” Markus Schuster, managing director of Audi Singapore, tells DigitalEdge Singapore.

EV ecosystem requires more support

However, more support is still required to accelerate the adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in the country, which is a key priority of the Smart Mobility 2030 plan.

“Efforts to ensure that stakeholders beyond car manufacturers can advance into the EV future are already underway. But more still needs to be done to help businesses like petrol stations, car dealers and motoring workshops identify new business models to participate economically in the value chain,” states Schuster.

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Jurgen Coppens, managing director, Strategy & Consulting and Sustainability Services lead for Southeast Asia at Accenture, agrees. “EVs are still considered nascent in Singapore, and most workshops have not adapted to cater to their maintenance needs. The Singapore Motor Workshop Association states that about 60% of its members have indicated they could shut down once EVs fully roll out as they are unable to service them. Singapore needs to address the challenge of pivoting the industry to adapt whilst pushing for smart urban mobility,” he says.

Besides that, EV ecosystem players and the government should work more closely to ensure they are keeping up with EV drivers’ demands.

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While environmental protection and cost savings are reasons drivers purchase EVs, EV drivers also want convenience and information at their fingertips. They want to know how far their EVs can go with the amount of juice left in them, where they can charge their cars, how long it’ll take and the cost of doing so.

Abhijit Sengupta, senior director and head of Business for Southeast Asia & India, HERE Technologies

He adds: "These different types of data are often represented in different formats or on different platforms, making it inconvenient for an EV driver to have all the information in one setting. The data can also sometimes appear to be inaccurate or presented in a bad user interface, resulting in a poor EV driving experience.

"If the EV ecosystem — comprising EV automotive original equipment manufacturers, charging-technology providers, map providers, operators and utilities — can come together to make data accessible for all, in a normalised, secure, intuitive and safe manner without distracting EV drivers from their driving, I am confident that EVs will be more widely adopted in Singapore.”

Keen on AVs

Singapore has also identified autonomous vehicles (AVs) as key to making public transport commute more convenient, accessible and sustainable. According to the Land Transport Authority (LTA), on-demand and dynamically routed autonomous bus and shuttle services can enhance first-and-last mile connectivity.

AVs are also expected to reduce the number of road accidents as their high-fidelity sensors enable them to navigate strictly according to traffic rules. Additionally, they will allow better utilisation of available road space by optimising routing through intelligent algorithmic planning.

Given these benefits, Singapore has been testing the use of AVs on roads since 2014. In fact, the LTA, Jurong Town Corporation and Nanyang Technological University launched the Centre of Excellence for Testing & Research of AVs (CETRAN) in 2017 as one of the world’s few testing and research facilities for self-driving vehicles. More than 40 driverless vehicles have been tested and approved to ply Singapore's roads to date.

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Guided by the AV Deployment Roadmap, Singapore has taken a calibrated and phased approach in trialling and deploying AVs. This has played a big part in increasing public acceptance of AVs and shifting the mindset of Singaporeans. Coupled with efforts to leverage data and digital technologies to design infrastructure, organise services and formulate regulations, Singapore is ready to facilitate the safe use of AVs.

Jurgen Coppens, managing director, Strategy & Consulting and Sustainability Services lead for Southeast Asia, Accenture

Singapore’s acceptance of AVs might also be due to the technology being first deployed in fields with the largest commercial incentive and the least risks. “In this case, logistics is the most promising field as transporting goods is less risky than transporting people. For instance, the Singapore Armed Forces have been trialling the use of AVs at Kranji Camps II and III and Paya Lebar Air Base since April 2021 to transport logistical supplies and personnel in military camps,” shares HERE’s Sengupta.

Transitioning to AVs will take time

Audi’s Schuster, however, notes that the shift towards AV adoption is a complex process, so the transition will not happen overnight. “Cross-sector cooperation is critical to help boost adoption. As technology progresses, we will see a continuous improvement of driver assistance systems that will improve safety standards and comfort for drivers. This means that the rollout of AV technologies is an evolutionary process, and the focus should lie in aligning technological possibilities and regulatory requirements at the same time.”

To help with that, Audi’s newly-launched A8 L and S8 cars feature comprehensive assistant packages, which employ the latest sensor-based technologies. These include lane-change assistant features, Audi pre-sense front and rear, adaptive cruise assist, 360° cameras and more.

Besides that, its concept vehicles aim to showcase the new frontier of transport with premium autonomous driving experiences. The Audi Grandsphere, in particular, is an all-electric luxury sedan with Level 4 automated driving, which means the car can handle the majority of driving situations independently.

On start-up, relevant data and displays appear for the driver and passengers in the Audi Grandsphere. These include information related to the current trip — such as route selection or restaurant or hotel stopovers — as well as entertainment options. Users can make their selection via tabs, a rotary-style multimedia interface touch button, or eye movements and gestures when the car is in Level 4 mode.

As Audi maintains focus on the future of mobility, we will continue to participate in this iterative process by presenting concept cars that expand the range of possibilities — creating sustainable vehicle experiences that go far beyond the driving experience itself

Markus Schuster, managing director, Audi Singapore

Building trust to accelerate EV and AV adoption

When asked how Singapore can scale the adoption of EVs and AVs, Accenture’s Coppens answers that building trust and serving the interests of the citizens are vital to achieving that. “But building trust is not a job that the government or the private sector can each take on alone. Collective responsibility between regulators, industry and consumers must come into play.

“For example, the promotion of EVs includes a whole range of activities from creating conditions for the development of charging infrastructure for EVs to promotional and public awareness measures directed at individuals and public and private sectors. While the government ensures regulations and conditions to support broader EV adoption, the private sector can play an important role in orchestrating value-added services leveraging the ecosystem,” he adds.

Consumer education, says Audi’s Schuster, is also crucial. “Smart city and innovative mobility solutions are heavily dependent upon social acceptance, so it is key to involve the general public in the discourse and development of urban mobility. Getting the buy-in of consumers requires deliberate planning to ensure that the necessary mindset shifts can take place from the beginning — by focusing on and reiterating aspects like safety, convenience and access to information.”

One way Audi is helping to shift consumer mindsets is through the “Audi on demand advantage” service. It provides long-term EV rentals so that consumers can get first-hand experience integrating EVs into their lifestyles, in hopes of encouraging EV adoption in Singapore.

Besides that, Audi will continue driving conversations around smart urban mobility through initiatives like its SocAlty study. “The study provides insights and possible solutions to common concerns and the overall societal dimension of autonomous driving, encouraging public discourse around the mobility landscape of the future,” shares Schuster.

Moving ahead on smart mobility

Since it will take some time before EVs and AVs become mainstream, the Smart Mobility 2030 plan also focuses on enhancing the current public transport system. HERE’s Sengupta believes that effective use of technology and data will be essential in achieving that.

“HERE can support that by aggregating public transit data and continuously updating, expanding and verifying data sources. We convert and harmonise multiple data formats to provide a seamless service for our enterprise or government customers.

“[In turn, commuters who use apps from those customers] can plan and book the fastest, cheapest or most convenient way to get to their destination. It mitigates disruption and delay across a multimodal transport network by offering a comprehensive range of services and options to help get them from A to B,” he claims.

This is exemplified by Sensors4Rail — a pilot project from the rail sector initiative Digitale Schiene Deutschland, featuring technologies from HERE, Siemens Mobility, ibeo automotive and Bosch Engineering. Sengupta shares that the project uses sensors to provide precise information about a train's surroundings and exact position. Based on this data, trains can be optimally controlled in the future and, for example, run at shorter intervals, which would bring more capacity to the railways without laying a single new track.

All in all, Singapore has progressed well in urban mobility, partially due to its government taking the right steps to ensure regulations and conditions support broader EV and AV adoption. Perhaps the next step is to encourage more collaborations between the private and public sectors to develop mobility solutions that will help Singapore realise a future of mobility that is efficient and sustainable.

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