It is conceivable that self-driving cars will disrupt several industries resulting in vast improvements in lifestyle and game-changing trends in housing.

Text by Benjamin Yong

It has been predicted that the first self-driving cars will be rolled out for the public by 2018. It’s partially coming true as public trials of self-driving taxis are currently taking place in Singapore, the US and Europe.

In August 2016, nuTonomy, the leading developer of state-of-the-art software for self-driving cars (SDV), launched its autonomous taxi service, a first in the world, as a pilot project in Singapore. Since April, nuTonomy, a three-year-old company founded by some alumni of the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has been testing its SDVs in Singapore.

The service is free but limited only to travel within the one-north business district as well as to adjacent neighbourhoods. Accompanying the passenger will be a nuTonomy safety driver and a support engineer who will observe system performance. The safety driver will take over the driving if the trip requires travel outside of one-north.

Unfazed by this new potential competition, in September, Grab, Southeast Asia’s leading ride-hailing app, joined the SDV revolution by allowing its select users a chance to use its app to hail the nuTonomy taxi. [ihc-hide-content ihc_mb_type=”show” ihc_mb_who=”1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8″ ihc_mb_template=”1″ ]

According to Grab, the SDV service is useful in underserved areas such as Jurong Island, Lim Chu Kang and Tuas, where its traffic data showed passengers are four times less likely to get a successful ride booking on their first try.

But beyond that, questions arise as to whether the robo-taxi will start dominating the taxi service scene once the tests prove successful. What then will happen to Grab, Uber and traditional taxi drivers? Even more thought-provoking is the idea that if public transportation becomes so sophisticated and comprehensive, do we even need our own private cars?

Singapore is uniquely positioned to become a car-lite society with its prohibitively expensive private car ownership system coupled with world-class public transit network and infrastructure. Particularly for this island-nation, it is not inconceivable that its taxi service industry will be completely disrupted by 2020, as predicted by some industry observers.


When people realise it’s much cheaper and much less hassle to use a driver-less taxi (safer in some respects than human-driven taxis), they will migrate to SDVs and public transportation. There’s no headache with parking or paying the Electronic Road Pricing (ERP) city centre toll, or paying petrol – in short, no more car maintenance headaches including road tax and insurance.

Best of all, the SDVs might even be more comfortable and you can be productive on the way to your destination. And, come to think of it – for the price of a taxi fare, you get an incredibly efficient and polite ‘driver’. SDV fares might even be reduced to compete with other forms of public transportation which are constantly being expanded and improved.

As a result, the entire car industry might be disrupted resulting in fewer sales as people ditch cars to go for the convenience and cost-savings offered by these taxis. Moreover, using driver-less cars will result in less accidents and less carbon footprint.

How would this impact the property market?

With less need for cars, car parking spaces can be freed up to build more useful spaces like dwellings or parks. People can stay further away from their workplace since they can work while commuting. The population can spread out more evenly throughout the state instead of congesting at central locations. At places further away from the city centre, residences can be built with bigger spaces and more greenery. The end result – healthier and more holistic lifestyles, and probably more affordable homes thanks to technology.[/ihc-hide-content]

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