ITU150 in March: Innovation and Intelligent Transport Systems

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Innovating with James: Are driverless cars the answer to improving road safety?

Cityscapes may be redefined by 2025 with the introduction of driverless technology designed to reduce traffic and improve road safety. Dr James Fu and the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology team are working to innovate automotive technology and change the way we commute.

There are many reasons to own a car; they provide drivers with greater mobility and independence, and for some can even act as a status symbol. These reasons, coupled with increasing affordability and availability, have led to a rapid growth in car ownership – in 2010 there were 1.015 billion cars worldwide, but it is predicted that there will be 1.7 billion on the road by 2035. This growth will adversely affect travel time, with the average commuter in the United States of America already spending 38 hours a year stuck in traffic, a surprising statistic considering that the average car is used less than 10% of the time. These additional vehicles will also compound current safety statistics: there are 1.24 million road traffic deaths per year worldwide, with drink driving and distracted driving, such as texting while driving, leading causes of road traffic accidents. Changes need to be made in automotive technology both to meet this growing demand and improve road safety while maintaining the freedoms associated with car ownership.

I finished my PhD in mechanical engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS), developing a framework to allow multiple agents (or robots) to perform multiple tasks in a globally efficient manner. This enabled me to join the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Future Urban Mobility research group – a collaboration between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and NUS, composed of a mix of Professors, postdocs, research engineers and PhD students – as a Postdoctoral Associate in 2013. I have since become the Project Lead of the autonomous vehicles group.

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