Singapore seems to be embracing autonomous driving technologies as well as anyone, conducting the world's first public trials of self-driving taxis in August and testing the software on closed circuits well before that. Now it is looking to bring the benefits of autonomy to its busy shipping ports, with the Ministry of Transport announcing a partnership with Toyota and Scania to develop and test a truck platooning system that hauls loads from one terminal to another.

Back in August 2014, the Committee on Autonomous Road Transport in Singapore was formed for the purposes of fast-tracking self-driving technologies in four areas in particular. These included fixed services like bus routes, on-demand and shared services for last-mile travel, utility operations and freight.

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With trials testing startup nuTonomy's specially-fitted vehicles now underway, Singapore is aiming to roll out a full-fledged autonomous taxi service in 2018. And now it is looking to address what it sees as a labor shortage in the trucking industry through the use of so-called autonomous truck platooning technology.

This kind of system would involve a convoy of autonomous trucks that transport containers from one port terminal to another, with one human-driven truck leading the pack. So in that way it will be a little different to some of the other self-driving truck trials to take place recently, like Volvo's autonomous truck that navigated a dark mine, and Daimler's that hurtled down the Autobahn with an executive aboard.

The Ministry of Transport says it selected Scania and Toyota for the venture based on the quality of their proposals and their records in truck-building and developing autonomous technologies. The trials will take place over three years, with the two companies to spend the first year or so developing and testing truck platooning technologies in their own research centers in Sweden (Scania) and Japan (Toyota). This includes the ability to "fully automate the processes for precise docking and undocking of cargo."

Following this first phase, the Ministry of Transport along with the port authority will then pick one of the companies to bring the technology on-shore for local testing and further development. This second phase will be conducted along a 10 km (6.2 mi) test route, initially to haul loads between two specific terminals with a view to later scaling it up for use in other port areas.

"Trucking as we know it today is a highly labor-intensive industry," said Mr Pang Kin Keong, Permanent Secretary for Transport and Chairman of the Committee on Autonomous Road Transport in Singapore. "We face a shortage of truck drivers. In this regard, truck platooning technology presents us with an opportunity to boost productivity in both the port sector and the trucking industry. It will also open up opportunities for truck drivers to take on higher-skilled roles as fleet operators and managers."

Source: Ministry of Transport (PDF)

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