Uber crash prompts reflection on driverless car development in Taiwan

Taipei, A driverless Uber car, which hit and killed a woman in the United States earlier this week, has put the safety of autonomous vehicles under the spotlight, and is prompting reflection in Taiwan as it pushes for smart vehicle development, with local stakeholders agreeing that the new form of transportation should be introduced under a more controlled environment.

In Taiwan, where traffic conditions are far more complicated than in the U.S., driverless vehicles should undergo numerous rounds of self-conducted tests to obtain sufficient data, operate on a fixed route, and abide by clear regulations and strong law enforcement, according to government officials, industry investors and experts.

The first fatality involving an autonomous vehicle, which took place in Arizona and killed a woman crossing the street at night, shows that at the current stage, it is better to run such a car in an environment it is familiar with, said a local smart car agent.

"Operating a driverless vehicle on a fixed route could reduce possible confusion for an artificial intelligence-driven car because it takes time for its computing system to become adapted to a new environment," said 7Starlake Co. President Martin Ting (???), the Taiwanese agent of France-based driverless shuttle manufacturer EasyMile.

The Uber car was in an autonomous mode when the accident happened. Although there was a safety driver behind the wheel, that person seemed distracted, according to video footage released by local police.

In Taiwan, Ting's team had conducted a road test on a closed section of the exclusive bus lane on Xinyi Road in Taipei last year. No other vehicles and people were allowed to enter the test ground at the time.

Ting's vehicle is currently undergoing further examination in a closed area in the city's Beitou-Shilin Technology Park, where variables not included in the Xinyi Road test are introduced this time to see, for instance, how the car responds to traffic lights.

Ting said the project is expected to conclude in June, and that he hopes the collection of more data and experiences could get the driverless car ready for the next step of real road tests, during which it will be able to interact with other vehicles and pedestrians.

Lee Chao-hsien (???), a specialist of the Transport Ministry's Department of Railways and Highways, told CNA that the Uber accident highlights the importance of emergency preparedness.

"There are more unexpected traffic scenarios in Taiwan than in the U.S., which is why we need to establish a more controlled environment for driverless cars," he said.

The ministry is set to release regulations governing real-road tests of autonomous vehicles soon, which will allow them to apply for temporary registration plates for six to 12 months, Lee said.

Applicants must be legal entities equipped with mature driverless car technology, and be able to provide both detailed operation and insurance plans, he said.

Li Kang (??), an assistant professor in the National Taiwan University's Mechanical Engineering Department, added that while the government is headed in the right direction in encouraging the development and operation of autonomous vehicles, it must also have strong law enforcement in place to assure safety.

"Any accident like the one with Uber could deal a blow to the industry," Li said. "We must be very cautious."

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel