Driverless vehicles come at a cost: Experts

Automated and connected vehicles will transform the way we move and live, but they come with additional costs, and it is unclear who will bear those costs.

The Korea Transport Institute research fellow and intelligent transport systems R&D director Moon Young-Jun said: "It is estimated that one hour of high-speed driving requires four gigabytes of data per vehicle. Who's paying for that?"

Currently, telco providers charge individual consumers between $1 and $5 for one gigabyte of data in Singapore. Assuming the one million vehicles here are on the road for an average of an hour a day (private cars shorter, but public transport and goods vehicles much longer), and they are all autonomous and connected, it could translate to at least $1 million a day - just on data cost.

The cost of such vehicles - estimated to be significantly higher than conventional manned vehicles - and the cost of necessary infrastructure are other expenditures which Dr Moon alluded to.

He was speaking at the first plenary session of the 26th Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress yesterday moderated by Quantum Inventions chief executive Saurav Bhattacharyya.

Singapore's Economic Development Board chairman Beh Swan Gin delivered the keynote address at the session. European GNSS Agency executive director Carlo des Dorides and Los Angeles Department of Transportation general manager Seleta Reynolds were the other panel members.

On the issue of cost, Ms Reynolds related how one company wanted Los Angeles to finance the cost of safety drivers for its automated vehicles "to the tune of US$21 million (S$29 million) a year".

But she acknowledged that the public sector has to invest to bring innovation to market, but these innovations have to have "real solutions to real problems".

She said electric scooters could be deployed in low-income neighbourhoods for low or no fees, explaining that these e-scooters will connect people in these neighbourhoods to jobs and schools.

 
 
 

On jobs, Dr Moon estimated that, by 2040, 7 per cent to 24 per cent of driving jobs in South Korea will be done by automated vehicles.

Panellists agreed that automated and connected vehicles will improve safety, each citing high road fatalities today.

While autonomous vehicles are also seen to reduce congestion and pollution, there is no consensus on how impactful they will be on this front.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2019, with the headline 'Driverless vehicles come at a cost: Experts'. Print Edition | Subscribe