Mock skyscrapers at Singapore self-driving test center

An autonomous road sweeper during a trial at the self-drive test center in Singapore. The center is run by Nanyang Technological University. (AFP)
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Updated 23 December 2019

Mock skyscrapers at Singapore self-driving test center

  • The govt sees technology as useful for public transport and delivery services

SINGAPORE: The road sweeper and a golf buggy move around the track with ease, jamming their brakes on when a pedestrian steps out and negotiating sharp turns.

Welcome to Singapore’s self-drive test center, complete with traffic lights and mock skyscrapers, which is at the heart of the city’s push to become a hub for autonomous technology.

However, while authorities are keen to tap a global drive by auto giants and startups to develop vehicles, the industry must still prove it is safe and persuade people to use the technology.

The two-hectare site has a track with sharp turns, traffic lights, a slope, and a bus stop to simulate real driving conditions. Shipping containers are also stacked up to emulate how high rises could potentially block satellite signals to self-driving machines.

The CETRAN center, run by Nanyang Technological University (NTU), even has a rain-making machine that can simulate the frequent tropical downpours in the Southeast Asian city-state of 5.7 million people.

“Before you are ready to go to the public roads, we test them here to see if they are actually ready,” said Niels De Boer, program director at the center.

All companies must put their autos through the center’s testing and certification programs before they are allowed to hit public roads.

The sweeper is being trialled as part of a government plan that could eventually see them deployed in the city, according to local media, while cars and buses are also being tested, and trials of delivery robots will soon take place.

Orderly Singapore is seeking to lure autonomous tech companies looking to trial their vehicles in Asia, where many other major cities are chaotic and traffic-clogged.

The government has led the drive, as it seeks to attract more foreign firms and because it sees the technology as useful for public transport and delivery services.

The first trials of an autonomous car on public roads took place in 2015.

In 2016, US software firm nuTonomy launched driverless taxi trials in public in Singapore, becoming the first company in the world to do so.

Authorities aim to deploy autonomous public transport in three areas by 2022, and in October announced it was expanding the area where self-driving vehicles can be tested to 1,000 km of public roads.

Self-driving vehicles will mainly be used in the public transport network for tasks such as shuttling people to stations and stops from their homes or workplaces, said Subodh Mhaisalkar, an NTU professor involved in the autonomous vehicle program.

De Boer from the CETRAN center said authorities were working on ensuring the correct regulations, such as traffic laws, are in place for self-driving vehicles.

Countries where private companies are taking the lead risk having “wonderful technology” but not being able to launch it in the market because of the absence of rules, he added.


Dubai rents may be bottoming out as ‘green shoots’ appear

Updated 20 January 2020

Dubai rents may be bottoming out as ‘green shoots’ appear

  • An estimated 45,000 homes were completed in Dubai in 2019 according to Chesterton estimates

LONDON: Confidence may be returning to Dubai property despite a bloated market for off-plan homes, according to a report from Chestertons, the real estate broker.

Although apartment and villa sales prices were down 2 percent and 3 percent respectively in the fourth quarter of 2019 compared to the previous quarter, rental rates are stabilizing.

But supply issues continue to represent the biggest challenge facing the market, with 45,000 new units completed in 2019 and that expected to double this year.

“The Dubai residential market in Q4 2019 is alluding to a more positive outlook for 2020 thanks to the slowdown of sales price declines and the leveling of rental rates,” said Chris Hobden, of Chestertons MENA. “This does, however, have to be tempered by the volume of new units scheduled for delivery in 2020, which makes the short-term recovery of prices in the emirate unlikely.”

In the rental market, no movement was witnessed in the fourth quarter with the market supported by a draft law which would fix rental rates for three years upon the signing of a contract. 

“To ensure high occupancy in 2020, landlords will have to be realistic in the face of tough market conditions. The incentives previously offered to tenants, such as rent-free periods, multiple cheques and short-term leases, will continue, with an increase in tenant demand for monthly direct debit payments also likely” added Hobden.