Developments in Singapore
Singapore is at the forefront of the development of autonomous vehicle (AV) systems and infrastructure in Asia, alongside China, Japan and South Korea. It is unsurprising that the latter three countries, some of the world’s largest car manufacturers, are aggressively attempting to accelerate the development of AVs. Singapore on the other hand, prioritizes AVs as an opportunity to improve public transport as part of its “Smart Nation” initiative. The Singaporean government is strongly supportive of AVs and electric vehicles. Singapore, with its geographical parameters, small data pool, developed infrastructure and highly urbanized environment, is also an ideal location for testing prototypes.
In this regard, Singapore has in recent years rigorously pursued partnerships and provided concessions to AV researchers to test vehicles at multiple sites across the city state. At the same time, its North-East and Downtown mass rapid transport (MRT) lines, and light rail transit (LRT) already use driverless technology. In February 2017, Singapore’s Minister for Transport told Parliament, that it was important that Singapore not impede the growth of AVs “as some cities have done.”1
International and regional developments
Elsewhere, traditional automotive manufacturers are competing to get AVs on the road and partnering with new technology companies to get there. In Japan, Toyota is teaming up with NTT, Nissan with NASA and Denso with NEC. In South Korea, Samsung has partnered with Renovo Auto and LG Electronics with HERE Technologies. Like Singapore, South Korea and China are dedicating public resources to support the development of AVs. In late 2017, the Korea Transportation Safety Authority and SK Telecom announced the first 5G testing platform for self-driving vehicles in the world, having deployed the experimental infrastructure in K-City, a purpose-built autonomous driving test city. Meanwhile in China, the Ministry of Science and Technology identified tech giants Baidu, Alibaba Group and Tencent Holdings – collectively known as BAT – and voice intelligence specialist iFlyTek, as participants in a coordinated national effort to develop next generation artificial intelligence (AI) technologies for AV technology and other uses.
Urban re-design in the “Garden City”
In recent years, Singapore’s urban planning policy has centered on creating a leafy “car-lite” society which limits congestion and facilitates sustainable growth. However, with a land area of just 720km2, nearly 12% of Singapore’s land surface is already roadway. With an ageing population set to increase from 5.54 to 6.9 million by 2030, the need to balance road transportation against other land uses is pressing.
Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew identified the ingredients of a good city as safety, mobility, cleanliness, connectivity, spaciousness and equity,2 factors which underpin Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative to embed digital and smart technologies in everyday life across the city state. Singapore’s well-developed civil service is dedicated to improving urban design and harnessing technological developments as they occur. The Ministry of Transport (MOT) is of the view that AVs will enable Singapore to become a Smart Nation, “where existing public transport will be complemented by a new system of shared mobility-on-demand services powered by fleets of self-driving vehicles.”3
Current strategies and initiatives in Singapore – Smart Mobility 2030 and the car-lite society
The potential for AVs to contribute to Singapore’s vision of a “car-lite” society in the immediate future was identified as early as 2014. That year, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) established a Committee on Autonomous Road Transport for Singapore (CARTS), which, in conjunction with the Intelligent Transportation Society Singapore (ITSS), created a joint partnership with the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) to provide a technical platform and industry park for partners and stakeholders to conduct research and development and test-bedding of AV technology, applications and solutions. That partnership is the Singapore Autonomous Vehicle Initiative (SAVI) which links the ministerial portfolio of transport with that of science, technology and research. The SAVI is part of the latest statutory land use master plan, “Smart Mobility 2030”, which is intended to be in effect for at least a decade.
In 2015, the LTA issued a request for information seeking proposals on how AV technology can be harnessed as part of other land transport mobility concepts, which include mobility-on-demand and autonomous buses. In that same year, a team of researchers from the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) began testing driverless cars on public roads.
A key challenge for most countries in developing AVs is complete access to high-speed and reliable internet across a vast terrain. A solution is a mesh connected network. Mesh networks use individual devices to create peer to peer (P2P) connections and WiFi networks, a system of hot-spots connect vehicles to each other. In 2016, tech company Veniam entered into a collaboration agreement with info-communications provider StarHub to create a connected vehicle mesh network in Singapore which has the potential to solve this issue of coverage.
A critical feature in government support for AV development in Singapore is its focus on this technology as a means of moving further away from private car ownership and addressing peak-hour demands to meet first-and-last-mile needs of commuters. The MOT and the LTA announced in November 2017 that autonomous scheduled buses and on-demand shuttles will serve commuters in the outlying areas of Punggol, Tengah and the Jurong Innovation District from 2022.
Over the past decade, Singapore has been heavily investing in ventures to test and develop AVs.
In 2007, NUS partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the National Research Foundation of Singapore to form SMART to identify and conduct research on critical problems of societal significance, one of its pillars of focus being future urban mobility and autonomous technologies.
In 2010, the SMART collaboration led to a test fleet of self-driving golf-buggies and working research prototypes that were demonstrated on the NUS campus with rides requested via smartphone. In September 2015, SMART began trialing AVs, including a retrofitted electric passenger car in mixed traffic environments. In 2017, the SMART trials extended to include participation from the general public on campus. SMART is also conducting public trials of a driverless e-scooter intended to improve mobility for the elderly and disabled.
In 2016, pursuant to the SAVI the LTA also entered into specific partnership agreements with Delphi Automotive Systems and tech start-up nuTonomy (both now subsidiaries of Aptiv PLC), to test their electric car and on-demand, door-to-door, first-and-last-mile and intra-town self-driving transportation concepts at a test bed in the one-north district. In a world’s first, this trial offered invite-only “driverless taxi journeys” using a ride-sharing app. This achievement was immediately followed by an announcement of a partnership with ride-hailing company Grab with a view to public access. Test vehicles used by nuTonomy have been made by Mitsubishi but in 2017 it announced plans to conduct tests with Groupe PSA.
The LTA also established the Centre of Excellence for Testing & Research of AVs – NTU (CETRAN) with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2016, to research how AV systems should operate, what testing requirements would be appropriate, and what an international standard for AVs should look like. CETRAN has partnered with industry stakeholders including Siemens, SystemX, PTV Asia-Pacific, the National Physical Laboratory, NXP Semiconductors Singapore and Diamond Energy, to develop infrastructure to support AVs such as sensors, signaling systems and computer simulated verification systems for AVs.
The MOT has already launched trials (described above) for autonomous mobility-on-demand services, which are envisaged to comprise a fleet of shared shuttles or pods utilizing AV technology that commuters will be able to book through their smartphones to comfortably travel to train stations or other neighborhood amenities from their homes. In 2017, CETRAN and the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) agreed to collaborate on research on operational safety and security of AVs. TNO has conducted vehicle platooning tests – where a human-driven vehicle leads a driverless convoy wirelessly on public roads, using cars in 2012, and trucks in 2015. It is intended that TNO will contribute “Streetwise”, a scenario-based methodology that uses real-life data to generate public road scenarios to test AVs in Singapore. In early 2019, in partnership with ST Kinetics, the LTA plans to deploy four mobility-on-demand vehicles, each with seating capacities ranging from 15 to 20 passengers, in a pilot public trial.
Truck platooning trials
In addition to public transport, the other key area of research and development of AVs in Singapore is AV systems for port cargo transportation. Singapore has one of the largest ports in the world and AVs present the attractive prospect of automating this aspect of port operation. In 2017, the MOT and Singapore’s port operator, PSA Corporation Limited began collaborating with Scania and Toyota Tsusho on driverless truck platooning trials. The goal is to organise convoys of four trucks in a follow-the-leader formation to automate docking of cargo within the next three years. In September 2017, Belgian logistics group Katoen Natie was authorized to operate driverless trucks at ExxonMobil’s manufacturing site in Jurong, initially with a human driver on board. The scope for the development of heavy vehicle technology towards full automation also opens up a raft of possibilities of replacing entire manual vehicle fleets in all manner of municipal services including the postal service, public cleaning services and waste management.
Buses and taxis
In April 2017, the LTA and ST Engineering’s land systems division, ST Kinetics, agreed to launch a three-and-a-half-year AV trial for driverless bus services on selected feeder and trunk service routes. The trial will involve testing two 40-seater electric autonomous buses in an industrial area during off-peak hours, before being rolled out to more complicated test sites including Jurong Island and the NUS campus. Since 2013, NTU has been trialing Induct’s electric autonomous shuttlebuses on campus. Each vehicle can carry eight passengers at a time and are occasionally deployed to staff and students travelling between Clean Tech Park and NTU. These are similar to the ten seater “Auto Rider” vehicles operating at Gardens by the Bay, (albeit with a decreased maximum speed of 20.1km compared to 40 km per hour in the case of the “Auto Rider” vehicles), and a dedicated test circuit of 1.8 hectares. CETRAN has been tasked with implementing self-driving buses in three towns by 2022 for use during off-peak hours and autonomous shuttles to provide first and last-mile connections.
International regulatory framework
With the technological evolution towards automated driving and to prepare for the introduction of AVs to the market, comes the need to adapt and amend existing regulations for road traffic to accommodate AVs. On the international front, the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (Geneva Convention) was the first attempt to harmonize road traffic and safety rules. This was followed by the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (Vienna Convention).5
Both the Geneva Convention and the Vienna Convention were premised on a human driver being able to control a vehicle, which is to be expected. To deal with the advancement towards automated driving features in vehicles and AVs, the United Nations has worked on conceptualizing road safety principles in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), shifting the focus towards the secondary activities that can be performed by a human driver when supported by automated driving technologies. The Vienna Convention was recently amended, to allow for driver assistance technologies. They include interpreting the term “driver” to allow for a driver to be remote from a vehicle and removing the requirements for steering controls and such. It is expected that similar progressive amendments will be made, as AVs continue to evolve.
Moving forward, should a comprehensive international regulatory framework for AVs emerge and be introduced by an international convention, countries may need to consider implementing changes to their domestic laws, in alignment with international practice.
Singapore regulatory framework
In an effort to promote the development of AV technology, the Singapore government amended its Road Traffic Act (Cap 276, 2004 Rev Ed) (RTA) in 2017 in order to establish a clear regulatory framework for the undertaking of trials and use on Singapore roads, of AVs at Levels 3, 4 and 5 of the SAE International J3016 standard. The implementing subsidiary legislation for these new provisions is the Road Traffic (Autonomous Motor Vehicles) Rules 2017 (Cap 276, 2017) (the AV Rules) which set out the form of application for, the conditions thereunder, and validity of authorizations to use AVs on roads.
SAE International sets global engineering standards – its framework for AVs defines six levels of driving automation from no automation to full automation. Level 3 can be visualized as an ordinary car that can respond to its environment itself but a human driver sits in the driver’s seat and can intervene to control the vehicle, Level 4 is high automation where the driver is essentially a passenger with the option of gaining control in challenging conditions like severe weather, whilst Level 5 is complete automation, where the car has no steering wheel or driver’s seat, and can handle all situations.
A key aspect of the recent amendments is the introduction of definitions of “autonomous motor vehicle” and “autonomous vehicle technology” to the RTA. An “autonomous motor vehicle” is defined as a motor vehicle equipped wholly or in part with an autonomous system and “autonomous vehicle technology” is technology which relates to the design, construction or use of autonomous motor vehicles, or otherwise relates to advances in the design or construction of such driverless motor vehicles. The definition of “autonomous motor vehicle” is helpful because it draws a distinction between driver-aid technologies such as adaptive cruise control, collision avoidance, automated emergency braking, and technologies that enable a motor vehicle to be driven without substantial input from a human driver.
The term “motor vehicle” has also been re-defined under the RTA as a vehicle propelled wholly or partly by a motor or by any means other than human or animal power that is used or intended to be used on any road. This updated definition is technology neutral and no longer restricts the definition of motor vehicles to vehicles that rely on “mechanical power”, thereby ensuring that the definition of “motor vehicles” remains relevant in the face of disruptive technological advancements.
Another key aspect of the amendments is the introduction of sections 6C and 6D of the RTA, which confer power on the Minister of Transport to make rules for the LTA to regulate AV trials and exempt AVs from the application of the rest of the RTA – effectively creating a regulatory sandbox. The ability for the Minister to make rules to govern trials is welcome because it allows the LTA and the MOT to adapt rules quickly and on an ad-hoc basis where necessary in response to industry feedback and technological developments, rather than making an amendment through the parliamentary legislative process, which can be lengthy and cumbersome. This ensures that the development of AVs and AV technologies will not be unnecessarily impeded or encumbered by the legislative process. In this regard, consistent with the regulatory sandbox approach, sections 6C and 6D of the RTA and the AV Rules made thereunder, are intended to be in force for a limited period of time only – they will lapse at the end of five years from the date of commencement of the relevant provisions (being 24 August 2017) of the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act 2017 (Act 10 of 2017) unless the RTA is amended to extend the period.
As a protective safeguard for the conduct of AV trials, the amendments include a new section 6E to the RTA which makes it an offense for a person, without reasonable excuse, to hinder or obstruct an approved trial or the carrying out of an approved special use, or to interfere with any equipment or device in an AV or relating to any autonomous vehicle technology, used in an approved trial or approved special use. The maximum penalty for this offense is a fine not exceeding $5,000. This new offence seeks to deal with mischievous bystanders who may deliberately throw objects or walk in front of an AV in order to test the reaction of the AV’s sensors.
Critically, the Computer Misuse and Cybersecurity Act (Cap 50A, 2007 Rev Ed) (CMCA) is not affected by the operation of section 6E of the RTA. This means malicious acts affecting an AV’s computer system or material such as unauthorized access or use, modification, interception or obstruction remain criminal offences punishable by a fine of up to $50,000 and a term of imprisonment of up to seven years under the CMCA.
Prior to August 2017, AV trials were either exempt from Singaporean licensing requirements as “approved trials” or granted special purpose licenses issued under section 28A of the RTA, on the basis that the vehicle was to be used for research and development. That requirement has now been dispensed with as approved trials are prescribed in the new section 6C which does not require AVs to be licensed.
Further, section 6D of the RTA states that rules made under section 6C are otherwise exempt to the extent required from the application of the RTA and any other written law. This is significant because many provisions in the RTA governing the use of roads contain instructions as to how vehicles should be driven, which are based on an assumption of human control. However, this assumption is negated in wholly autonomous cars, or those substantially outfitted with AV technologies, which render them driverless, as the vehicle’s human occupant is not expected to actively monitor the vehicle’s behavior or performance.
These amendments however only apply to new trials. Accordingly, they do not apply to any AV for which a special purpose license was issued before August 24, 2017.
Separately, with respect to vehicle licensing and control in general, Singapore currently restricts the number of new vehicles that can be registered by using a quota system whereby vehicle numbers are maintained at a rate deemed sustainable. Anyone who wishes to register a new vehicle must also obtain a Certificate of Entitlement (COE), which represents the right to own a vehicle for ten years. COEs do not currently apply to AVs used in public trials although this is likely to change when AVs become common modes of transportation.
AV trial rules
Significantly, the AV Rules require specified persons to have in place, before the start of an approved trial or approved special use, liability insurance and to ensure that such insurance is in force throughout the duration stated in the authorisation for the approved trial or approved special use. The failure to comply with this requirement is an offence punishable with a fine.
In this regard, the AV Rules also provide that the LTA may, if satisfied that the specified person has made reasonable efforts to obtain liability insurance but is unable to do so, allow the specified person to place with the LTA a security deposit of not less than S$1.5 million in lieu of such liability insurance, which is to be used as compensation (to an injured party) in the event that any death, bodily injury or damage to property, of a person is caused by or arises out of the use of an AV during an approved trial or approved special use.
The AV Rules also impose a number of duties on specified persons, such as: (1) the duty to ensure maintenance of an AV; (2) the duty to install data recorders in AVs and ensure that such devices are in operation at all times when the AV is being used in an approved trial or special use; (3) the duty to keep records of the approved trial or approved special use; (4) the duty to notify incidents and accidents; and (5) produce the AV to be subject to tests when so directed by the LTA. The breach of any such duty is an offense punishable with a fine.
Licensing and liability for “drivers”
The Urban Redevelopment Authority within the Ministry of National Development is working to assist urban planners to design for the widespread use of AVs at Level 4 or below on the SAE scale in mass transit road systems. A shift towards AVs in public transport could mean smaller lane widths, free road space and headway being repurposed as greenery, pedestrian paths or AV parking areas. It is hoped subsequent public road trials will guide AVs towards infrastructure-light modifications and result in a shorter lead time for widespread use. This does not however overcome the issue of infrastructure necessarily required for electric powered AVs. It is likely that this will be a sticking point for future widespread deployment.
The kind of infrastructure required for electric AVs includes a sustainable ratio of charging points to cars, and a network of strategically located and accessible charging stations, as well as smart billing systems and establishing appropriate driver etiquette in the use of such equipment. A step in this direction is the Smart Nation Sensor Platform project, an island-wide network of connected sensors that will allow data to be shared across government agencies in the manner of the IoT. This is a result of the Prime Minister’s Office’s multi-disciplinary Smart Nation and Digital Government Office formed in May 2017 to leverage data and digital technologies. The implementing agency, GovTech, is tasked to achieve “smart urban mobility” by using AI and AVs to enhance public transport commuting.
One of the key features of AVs is the ability of the vehicle to collect and transmit data and communicate with other vehicles (V2V) and with infrastructure (V2I). As the IoT continues to develop, it will increasingly integrate communications, control and information processing across transport systems in relation to vehicles, infrastructure and the driver. The interaction between these components will enable interaction with and between vehicles, smart traffic control, smart parking, toll collection, logistics and fleet management, vehicle control and safety and road assistance. This information will create data sets that can be used in Big Data analytics projects.
Whilst the technological developments surrounding AVs is exciting, it requires deep consideration of the data privacy implications and potential cybersecurity concerns.
In Singapore, the collection, use and disclosure of personal data by manufacturers, service suppliers, telecommunication providers and other parties in the supply chain of AVs will be subject to the Personal Data Protection Act 2012 (Act 25 of 2012) (PDPA). “Personal data” means data, whether true or not, about an individual who can be identified either (a) from that data; or (b) from that data and other information to which an organisation has or is likely to have access.
It is possible that with respect to Singapore’s ongoing AV trials, very little personal data is currently captured, as we would expect the majority of the data to be data that relates to organisations and be technical in nature rather than to identify individual people. However, as AVs develop and are deployed on roads and used by members of the public, personal data will become increasingly very relevant.
The privacy risks relate to personally identifiable information and such information may be collected by smart infotainment systems, data recorders, location tracking and V2V and V2I communication. If the information can be traced back to an individual such as the vehicle owner or passengers, then it will be protected by the PDPA. An example of this is geo-location data, which in combination with other data sets, may enable the identification of individuals who have used the vehicle.
This type of personal data will provide a detailed analysis of a person’s daily routine, lifestyle, preferences and demographic. This data may be very valuable in assisting government authorities with city and traffic planning and improving safety. However, it will also be very valuable information to commercial organisations seeking to improve their targeted marketing efforts, and in the wrong hands, could pose a serious risk of harm to individuals, such as stalking.
The LTA oversees the ongoing AV trials in Singapore and is empowered under the RTA to regulate AV trials to safeguard the safety of road users, which includes requiring all trial participants to share data from their trials with the LTA to facilitate the evaluation of trials. Although we expect the majority of the trial data to be company data and otherwise technical data, it is possible this data will include personal data such as personal opinions of people who have provided feedback during the trial that can be attributed to them. As the trials continue and expand in scope, the quantity of personal data that will be shared with the LTA is likely to increase. The PDPA does not apply to Singapore’s public agencies, such as the LTA. Instead, Singapore public agencies largely self-regulate their collection, use and disclosure of personal data. However, the Public Sector (Governance) Act 2018 (Act 5 of 2018), which relates to personal data used by government agencies, came into operation on 1 April 2018. The new rules formalise the data-sharing framework between public sector agencies and provide that agencies requesting data, not just those that own it, are now responsible for protecting that data.
Privacy by design
It is critical that manufacturers and designers of AVs proactively consider data privacy issues, often referred to as “privacy by design.” It requires building in data protection and considering privacy concerns at every stage of the development and design process. This results in privacy becoming an essential component of the core functionality being delivered.
An integral part of privacy by design is a privacy impact assessment (PIA). The PIA process identifies and tracks the flow of personal data including how it is collected, used and who it is disclosed to. This understanding allows the manufacturers and designers of AVs to identify privacy issues and potential privacy issues and factor in solutions and workarounds into design. An effective PIA will allow companies in the AV supply chain to identify and fix problems at an early stage thereby reducing the associated costs and damage to reputation which might otherwise occur.
An individual must consent before an organisation can collect, use and/or disclose their personal data in Singapore. Prior to giving consent, the individual must be notified of the purposes for which their personal data is being collected, used and disclosed and an organisation may not collect, use and disclose personal data for any purpose beyond what a reasonable person would consider appropriate in the circumstances.
It is worth noting that in 2017 the Singapore Personal Data Protection Commission released a consultation paper that proposed certain amendments to the PDPA. One of the proposed changes was a relaxation of the requirement to obtain individual consent, subject to certain other requirements, if (1) the organisation has notified the individual of the purpose and it is impractical to obtain consent and the collection, use and disclosure of personal data is not expected to have an adverse impact on the individual; or (2) if collection, use and disclosure is necessary for a legal or business purpose. If this proposal is implemented, it may reduce the burden on providers of AVs to obtain consent for the collection, use and disclosure of personal data in Singapore and it may enable them to perform data analytics on data pools without individual consent to enable them to extract greater value from data that is collected.
Retention of personal data
Manufacturers and service providers of AVs who collect personal data will need to be mindful of their data retention obligations. Retaining personal data for longer than is necessary increases the likelihood of infringing data protection legislation and it creates potential security issues relating to the volume and storage of that data. In Singapore, organisations must cease retention of personal data when (1) the purpose for which the personal data was collected is no longer being served by retention of the personal data, and (2) retention is no longer necessary for legal or business purposes. Rather than completely deleting or destroying the personal data, it is possible for companies to retain data, provided it has been anonymized in such a way that it cannot be reattributed to an individual.
Sharing and transferring personal data
To effectively operate an AV business, manufacturers and service providers may desire or need to share the personal data that they collect with third parties including other companies within the same company group, government authorities and other suppliers. In addition to obtaining an individual’s consent for such disclosure of personal data (described above), such disclosure may result in the international transfer of personal data. Many jurisdictions, including Singapore, restrict the transfer of personal data collected in one country to another country or territory, unless certain requirements are met. Manufacturers and service providers will need to consider this issue and put adequate mechanisms in place to ensure that any cross-border transfer of personal data meets applicable legal and regulatory requirements.
In addition to data privacy concerns, the very nature of AVs also creates very real cybersecurity concerns. As noted by Professor Lam Khin Yong of NTU, “[i]t is no longer the person who is in control, but an [AI] network capable of deep machine learning... It will be in constant communication with other vehicles, with infrastructure such as traffic lights and with dispatch and routing systems, thus making it vulnerable to cybersecurity challenges.”7
As Singapore continues to forge ahead with its Smart Nation initiative and increasingly employs innovative technology including AVs, the Singapore government is acutely aware of the need to protect Singapore from cybersecurity threats. In 2017, Singapore introduced amendments to the CMDA that included changes to criminalise using, retaining or supplying personal data obtained through cybercrime and the act of obtaining or dealing with items that can be used for cybercrime, i.e. hacking tools. In addition, in 2018, Singapore enacted the Cybersecurity Act 2018 (Act 9 of 2018), which imposes cybersecurity compliance obligations on owners of critical information infrastructure that are used to provide “essential services” in Singapore. One of the designated 11 categories of critical sectors providing “essential services” is land transport. Accordingly, it is possible that certain operators of AVs could be designated as critical information infrastructure owners and be subject to cybersecurity compliance obligations under the Cybersecurity Act.
A recent Global Consumer Connected Car survey by security company Irdeto found that 85% of consumers believe that vehicles connected to the internet (i.e. connected cars), could potentially be a target of a cyberattack. Consumers’ concern is not unfounded. As vehicles interconnect and communicate with other vehicles, devices and infrastructure as a part of the IoT, any weakness in the security of the network could be exploited by hackers and lead to a cyberattack. This could result in personal data being stolen which could cause financial loss and reputational damage to suppliers of AVs, including loss of consumer confidence. A cyberattack could also result in an AV being controlled remotely for malicious purposes such as using the vehicle to cause physical harm to people or damage to property.
As discussed above with regard to privacy by design, it is critical that designers and manufacturers of AVs build cybersecurity resilience into every stage of the design process to identify potential loopholes and vulnerabilities upfront and design solutions to address and remedy them.
AVs largely rely on high-tech sensors and algorithms to perform and detect and respond to their surroundings. It is challenging to create software completely without fault and as such software bugs are a common occurrence. However, the potential risk of a software bug affecting an AV is far greater than that of a computer or mobile phone, as a software bug in an AV could lead to an accident and physical harm. Vehicles today are increasingly software-dependent and software issues accounted for nearly 15% of U.S. car recalls in 2015. Mike Wagner, co-founder of Edge Case Research, a Pittsburgh company that tests and simulates computer software to identify and fix bugs and other weaknesses, notes that it may only take one bug in a piece of software or a bad line of code to potentially make the system go haywire.
The development and deployment of AVs is exciting and offers many benefits for consumers and society. However, the benefits must be carefully weighed against the potential risks to privacy and cybersecurity, and the potential damage that could be caused by a personal data breach or cybersecurity incident should not be understated. If designers and manufacturers of AVs effectively use privacy by design tools and take a security-centric approach to each stage of the development process, hopefully many of the privacy and cybersecurity risks can be mitigated.
In recent years, Singapore’s urban planning policy has centered on creating a leafy “car-lite” society which limits congestion and facilitates sustainable growth.
The operation of AVs is highly dependent on technology, much of which is proprietary and protected as intellectual property in Singapore. It is inevitable that AV manufacturers and service providers will seek to expand their share of the market through the exploitation of their intellectual property. In this regard, the intellectual property rights which are perhaps easiest to exploit in this nascent industry are patent rights and copyright.
AVs involve an array of technologies such as automated automotive technologies, which enable a vehicle to drive, park, brake; collision avoidance technology to allow AVs to detect and avoid objects; telecommunications technologies such as dedicated short-range communication (DSRC) and 5G technology, which vehicles use to “communicate” with each other; machine learning technology and Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology.
Some of these technologies, such as LIDAR, have been around for many years. Others, such as machine learning, are developing rapidly. New and improved versions of these technologies will be patentable in Singapore as long as they fulfil the baseline requirements of novelty, having an inventive step and being capable of industrial application under the Patents Act (Cap 221, 2005 Rev Ed). The fact that these technologies may be contained in the form of software is not a barrier to registrability under Singapore’s patent regime, which allows software to be patented as long as it fulfils the abovementioned baseline requirements,8 unlike several other jurisdictions where software is not patentable.
Under Singapore’s patent law, the combination of existing technologies may itself be patentable provided that the combination is novel and not obvious. This is particularly relevant in the AV industry, where researchers such as SMART are aiming to “[integrate] existing technologies with fresh methodologies to allow driverless vehicles to intelligently provide Mobility-on-Demand”, thereby creating potentially patentable inventions in the form of AVs.
It is anticipated that the Patents Registry will receive a host of new patent applications relating to AVs in the near future, as industry players seek to protect the fruit of their research through patent registration. In fact, at the time of writing, there are already a number of patents claiming protection for AVs (as opposed to the constituent technologies which make up an AV), both registered and pending, which have been published on the Patents Registry’s database. It is notable that these patents have been filed not just by car manufacturers but also by new mobility providers (Uber) and electronic manufacturers (Panasonic), which suggests that the battle for the AV market will involve parties across a number of industries.
Patent owners of technologies that are integral to the functioning of AVs should be prepared to license those technologies to third parties. Under the Patents Act, an interested person may apply to the Singapore courts to compel a patent owner to grant a licence under its patent, if the grant of the licence is necessary to remedy an anti-competitive practice. This would include a scenario where there is a market for the patented invention in Singapore, but the patent owner has completely refused to supply that market with the patent invention or has refused to supply the patented invention on reasonable terms.
The Patents Act also provides that the Singapore government may use, or authorise any party to use, a patented invention for a public non-commercial purpose, on condition that the government is obliged to pay the patent owner an agreed sum for the use of the invention, or a sum that may be determined with regard to the economic value of the patented invention. This rarely-used provision may come into play if the government, or its appointed representatives, seek to use a patent in the course of developing AVs for public transportation.
Computer programs, including source codes and object codes, can be protected as literary works under copyright law in Singapore. This is a form of intellectual property protection that is available even if the computer program does not meet the criteria for patent registration. As there is no registration system for copyright in Singapore, hence no need to incur registration fees to obtain copyright protection, this would provide a more easily accessible method for creators of AV software to protect their creations.
Nevertheless, there are limits to copyright protection. Copyright only protects the expression of an idea, not the idea itself. In relation to software, this would mean that a software owner cannot use copyright law to prevent a third party from independently developing software which fulfils the same function; the software owner can only prevent a third party from copying the source code of his or her software.
There are also statutory exceptions to copyright infringement which, amongst others, allow lawful users of computer programs to decompile computer programs for the purpose of creating an independent computer program which is interoperable with it. This would mean that a software owner cannot prevent a rival from decompiling its software for the purpose of creating an interoperable computer program.
In Singapore, there is no specific law or regulation solely dealing with the liability that may arise from the manufacture, distribution or supply of a defective product. Product liability law is instead spread across a variety of statutes and common law, with different statutes only applying to particular products.
With respect to autonomous vehicle technology, there is currently no specific product liability regime in Singapore. However the LTA, as the governmental body which oversees the regulation of vehicles, may decide to issue specific product liability regulation in respect of AVs. It has already issued the AV Rules that impose a number of duties on specified persons (see above).
To date, a person with a claim arising from a defective product is required to go through the Singapore judicial system and bring a claim against the manufacturer, the seller or the distributor, based on breach of contract, tort of negligence or misrepresentation, depending on whether there is a contractual relationship between the claimant and the other party.
It is easy to imagine that AV technology will add another layer of complexity to attributing liability in respect of the defective product, and it is likely that a claim arising from a defective AV will be brought against all the persons involved in this new technology, such as car manufacturers, software manufacturers and network providers.
The question of where blame for an accident falls, and thus who is liable for any losses flowing from that accident, will ultimately be decided by the specific factual circumstances of each event. As things currently stand in Singapore, where there is no direct contractual relationship between a party who suffers loss and the manufacturer, then the sole remedy under Singapore law will be a tortious claim of negligence, requiring (1) the establishment of a duty of care from the manufacturer to the person suffering the loss; (2) a breach of that duty; (3) that the breach must have caused the relevant loss; and (4) that the loss must be reasonably foreseeable.
Under Singapore law it is illegal for any person to use, cause or permit any person to use, a motor vehicle in Singapore without a valid insurance policy, which insures that person in respect of liability for death or bodily injury caused to third parties arising out of the use of the motor vehicle. Singapore law also provides for a presumption of use of the motor vehicle against the person recorded as the owner of the vehicle in the register for a vehicle registered under the RTA.
From an insurance and risk perspective, AVs present a challenge to the existing allocation of risk with respect to vehicle insurance. To date, the only change in Singapore law which contemplates AVs is the amendment of the RTA and the AV Rules thereunder to better regulate trials of AVs. As stated above, the specified person responsible for an approved trial or approved special use must have liability insurance which is in force for the time period stated in the requisite authorization, or a deposit be placed with the LTA for that same period. Under the RTA, liability insurance is defined as an insurance policy indemnifying the owner and any authorized driver or operator of a vehicle or trailer used in that trial or special use in relation to death or bodily injury caused by, or arising out of, the use of the vehicle or trailer on a road and in relation to damage to property caused by, or arising out of, the use of the vehicle or trailer on a road.
There are however, no specific guidelines as to how the liability should be determined in the case of road accidents involving an AV. Practically, as in every accident, a factual analysis and determination as to the cause of the accident will have to be undertaken.
Vehicles equipped with driverless features such as satellite navigation or advanced driver assistance systems (such as parking sensors, intelligence speed adaptation and turning assistant) do not present a challenge to the existing insurance liability matrix as the concept of the driver being held responsible for any loss caused is still relevant. In these cases the driver is expected to use the semi-autonomous features responsibly and intervene where necessary to prevent injury.
However, complicated questions will arise in respect of AVs with full automation. Indeed, the more a vehicle is automated, the less the vehicle is under a human driver’s control and the less liability can be attributed to their negligence or fault. Consequently, it is very likely that there will be a change of approach when attributing liability in accidents involving AVs as it will be necessary to shift the focus from the behavior of a human behind the wheel to manufacturers, whether that be the makers of the physical components or the software developer.
While the “user” of the vehicle must have liability insurance, and the insurers hereof will have primary responsibility for compensating injured third parties, this analysis will enable the liability insurers to recover their losses from the party (or the insurer hereof) of the component of the AV that caused or contributed to the accident.
Beyond the amendment of the RTA to better regulate trials, no new legislation to cater for this technology is currently proposed, although the legal implications of AV technology is under consideration by the LTA.
Insurers will nonetheless be required to adapt in line with the use and widespread adoption of AV technology. Traditional criteria used by insurers in the risk factor approach for setting the amount of the premium (for example) which usually include information on drivers such as the age, sex, driving experience and claims history, will not be as relevant when the insurance policy relates to a fully autonomous AV.
New risks such as cyber risk, need also be taken into account, as accidents may be caused by the hacking of a self-driving system. It is likely that the traditional mandatory third-party liability insurance regime will need to be reshaped to reflect this possibility.
The Competition & Consumer Commission of Singapore (CCCS), the statutory body tasked with enforcing Singapore’s anti-trust laws, has yet to issue any public statement on competition in the AVs market in Singapore. This is unsurprising given the nascent stage of the AV industry with AVs not yet available for hire or purchase by consumers.
When dealing with disruptive innovations, the CCCS aims to strike a balance between the need to regulate new technologies to protect consumers, and the need to enable disruptive firms to enter and expand into the Singaporean market. For instance, in 2014, the CCCS worked closely with the LTA in the course of the LTA’s drafting of regulations regarding third-party taxi booking applications. The CCCS advocated a “light touch” regulatory approach that would encourage innovation within the market while at the same time preserving the fundamental tenets of Singapore’s taxi regulatory policies. It is likely that the CCCS would advocate a similar “light touch” approach to the regulation of AVs, since the AVs industry seeks to benefit a similar segment of consumers, and similar considerations are therefore likely to apply.
Anti-competitive behavior in Singapore falls into three categories: (1) anti-competitive agreements, (2) abuse of dominance and (3) merger control. The CCCS is empowered to investigate allegations of all three types of anti-competitive behavior upon receiving complaints. To date, there has been no recorded complaint about anti-competitive behavior in the AV market in Singapore and no enforcement action has been taken by the CCCS.
On the merger front, Delphi Automotive Systems (recently renamed as Aptiv PLC) acquired tech start-up nuTonomy in October 2017 for US$450 million. As indicated above, these are the only two companies that the LTA is partnering with under the SAVI to carry out tests on autonomous mobility on-demand services. The acquisition of nuTonomy is therefore significant as it involves the merger of two major players in the AV market in Singapore.
The CCCS practices a voluntary notification regime for mergers, under which parties to an anticipated merger or a merger that has already taken place may apply to the CCCS for a decision that the merger will not infringe the Competition Act (Cap 50B, 2006 Rev Ed) (in other words, for merger clearance). While parties to mergers of similar magnitude in other industries have notified the CCCS of those mergers, there is no record of Delphi or nuTonomy notifying the CCCS about their merger.9
This does not mean that Delphi’s acquisition of nuTonomy is in breach of the Competition Act. As mentioned above, the AVs industry is still at a formative stage and it may be too early to ascertain whether the acquisition will have any effect on competition in the relevant Singapore markets. In addition, it is possible that the merger would result in a net economic benefit by allowing Delphi and nuTonomy to pool labor and R&D resources, thereby expediting the development of AVs in Singapore. Mergers which result in a net economic benefit are exempt from the operation of the Competition Act.
In practice, the CCCS often adopts a “wait-and-see” approach towards disruptive innovations, which involves closely monitoring market developments and implementing regulatory action only if there are genuine anti-competitive concerns. The CCCS had recently adopted this approach in relation to the online food delivery industry as well as the market for third-party taxi booking applications, after receiving complaints about alleged anti-competitive practices in those industries. It is likely that the CCCS will adopt a similar approach with regard to the AV industry, and will closely monitor market developments in the AV industry in the near future to safeguard the healthy growth of the industry.
- Ministry of Transport website, “Opening Speech by Second Minister for Transport Ng Chee Meng for the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill Second Reading”<https://www.mot.gov.sg/news-centre/news/Detail/Opening%20Speech%20by%20Second%20Minister%20for%20Transport%20Ng%20Chee%20Meng%20for%20the%20Road%20Traffic%20(Amendment)%20Bill%20Second%20Reading/> (accessed 7 June 2018).
- Paul Jacob, Laurel Teo & Sue-Ann Chia, “Mr. Lee on the ingredients of a good city”, The Straits Times (14 September 2003) at p 7.
- Land Transport Authority website, “LTA to launch autonomous mobility-on-demand trials” <https://www.lta.gov.sg/apps/news/page.aspx?c=2&id=73057d63-d07a-4229-87af-f957c7f89a27> (accessed 7 June 2018).
- Nanyang Technological University website, “NTU, LTA and JTC unveil Singapore’s first autonomous vehicle test centre” <https://media.ntu.edu.sg/NewsReleases/Pages/newsdetail.aspx?news=39308c90-536c-4c3a-be6d-b9c07041a442> (accessed June 7, 2018).
- Such is with international conventions and treaties, their effect very much depends on the extent and number of countries who sign up to the convention and if they ratify the convention into domestic law. The Vienna Convention is far more detailed than its successor, the Geneva Convention – for instance, it includes a set of uniform road traffic rules. It has also been interpreted more restrictively. Consequently, it has not been widely ratified. Seventy five (75) countries have acceded to or otherwise ratified, the Vienna Convention: Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Central African Republic, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guyana, Hungary, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Italy, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Liberia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Mongolia, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Moldova, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Tajikistan, Macedonia, Tunisia, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Zimbabwe. With the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and most other ASEAN countries, Singapore is not a signatory to the Vienna Convention. https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetailsIII.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XI-B-19&chapter=11&Temp=mtdsg3&clang=_en. See also, UnitedNationsTreatyCollectionwebsite <https://treaties.un.org/pages/ViewDetailsIII.aspx?src=TREATY&mtdsg_no=XI-B-19&chapter=11&Temp=mtdsg3&clang=_en> (accessed 7 June 2018).
- Singapore Parliamentary Debates, Official Report (February 7, 2017) vol 94 at p 86 (Ng Chee Meng).
- Valerie Koh, “Research, test centre for self-driving vehicles launched” Today (2 August 2016) at p 3.
- First Currency Choice Pte Ltd v. Main-Line Corporate Holdings Ltd and another appeal  1 SLR(R) 335.
- The CCCS publishes merger notifications on its public register, accessible at Competition & Consumer Commission of Singapore website https://www.ccs.gov.sg/public-register-and-consultation/public-register/mergers-and-acquisitions (accessed 7 June 2018).