Subscriber Login


AV Deployment in Southeast Asia: Slower uptake and regional variation in the adoption of AV technology [free access]

August 1, 2021

Trials of autonomous vehicles (AVs) are taking place across the Asia Pacific region and show considerable promise. In the Asia Pacific region, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is a group of disparate nations with widely varying political systems, demographics, geographies, and economies. The deployment of AVs in this group varies widely, ranging from the most AV-ready nation in the world to countries that have yet to explore any aspect of the technology.


Singapore: The leader in AV deployment


Singapore is among the most AV-ready countries in the world. The Committee on Autonomous Road Transport for Singapore was set up to chart the strategic direction for AV-enabled land mobility concepts in Singapore. The Land Transport Authority also signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with research and development (R&D) agency A*STAR to set up the Singapore Autonomous Vehicle Initiative to explore the technological possibilities offered by AVs in Singapore.


AVs are expected to be integrated into the city-state’s land transport master plan to make Singapore into a “45-minute city”. Private AV ownership is not the priority; AV adoption and development are mostly focused on freight movement and public transport.


In January 2019, Singapore’s government published its TR68 draft national standards for AVs as well as a voluntary artificial intelligence (AI) governance framework. The latter was updated in January 2020 with real use-cases and taking into consideration the need for AI to generate consistent results. In October 2019, Singapore expanded its AV testing area to cover all public roads in western Singapore. This amounts to around 1,000 km. It also started retraining 100 bus drivers as AV bus safety operators as part of its goal to serve three new towns with driverless buses from 2022.


In March 2020, Hyundai announced a global innovation centre that will open in Singapore in 2022, while Desay has set up its first overseas R&D centre to work on AVs.


The first trial of self-driving buses in Singapore took place in 2015. Since then, several AV R&D trials have been conducted. These include driverless taxis developed by nuTonomy, on-demand driverless shuttle buses deployed in Sentosa Island, driverless shuttle buses connecting student halls in the Nanyang Technological University campus, and self-driving golf-buggies developed jointly by the National University of Singapore and the Singapore–MIT Alliance for Research and Technology.


In January 2021, a driverless bus service for a small fee was introduced in two areas, at Singapore Science Park 2 and on Jurong Island. The service was headed by ST Engineering and operated by SMRT and SBS Transit.


Malaysia: Firm plans for AV deployment


Under its National Automotive Policy 2020, Malaysia plans to encourage the automotive industry through R&D in new technologies, particularly in the areas of next-generation vehicles (NxGV), Industrial Revolution 4.0, and Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). In March 2018, the Malaysian government announced that it intended to capitalise on the advancements in AV technology by running an R&D programme until 2025.


To further the development of NxGV (which are energy-efficient vehicles with a minimum of Level-3 automation), the Ministry of Transport together with the Sepang Municipal Council approved Malaysia’s first public road as an AV testing route in December 2020. Developed by Futurise under the National Regulatory Sandbox initiative, the Cyberjaya Malaysia Autonomous Vehicle (MyAV) Testing Route is a 7-km-route where companies can test and validate the capabilities of their AV technology under “real” traffic conditions of Malaysia’s public roads.


Reports also mention that a centre of excellence for future technology, which includes a testing facility for AVs, will be set up by the Malaysia Automotive, Robotics and IoT Institute, a unit under the Ministry of International Trade and Industry.


Other efforts in the area of AV technology include the initiative by Perak State Development Corporation under the South Perak Region project to position Tanjung Malim as the leader in connected and automated vehicle (CAV) technology in Southeast Asia. REKA, a local R&D technology company, developed a self-driving Proton Perdana with Level-3 automation in September 2016. In January 2020, Altel Holdings Sdn Bhd, through its partnership with autonomous car company MooVita, showcased its 5G-powered autonomous shuttle at the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission’s 5G Demonstration Project. In April 2020, Celcom demonstrated a self-driving Proton Exora using the autonomous system developed by MooVita and Ericsson as part of the 5G Malaysia showcase. In June 2021, Yinson Holdings Berhad signed an agreement with Singapore’s SMRT Ventures to jointly invest in MooVita. The investment is meant to spur the development and adoption of driverless technology for utility and public transport, such as buses, across Asian cities, starting with Singapore and Malaysia.


Thailand: Exploring and investing in AVs


Thailand is Southeast Asia’s car production hub, and the government is trying to boost investment in electric vehicles (EVs) and AVs. The country does not have many regulations governing the use of self-driving vehicles on public roads, and Thailand’s development agency is working with other departments to formulate plans for the country’s roads. Early adopters of AV are expected to be operators of public transport fleets and ride-hailing services, with Thailand’s main ride-sharing services provider planning to put robotaxis on the road before 2022.


Thailand’s first commercial autonomous car test driving had its eight-month trial from Q4 2019 to Q2 2020 at Siri Ventures Private PropTech Sandbox, T77 Community. The project was a public–private partnership, in which the National Science and Technology Development Agency and the Department of Science Service were responsible for developing platform technologies for self-driving vehicles, and Siri Ventures handled user application and data collection and analysis of user feedback. The technology is being transferred to industry for commercialisation, starting with Airovr, a Thai startup that is pioneering autonomous car development.


In addition, in June 2020, Huawei, the Thailand National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, and Siriraj Hospital initiated the “Unmanned Vehicle Pilot Project Driving Thai Healthcare to 5G Era”. The self-driving delivery vehicle used 5G technology from Huawei for contactless delivery of medical supplies.


The Philippines: Successful test runs of AVs


The 2019 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games were the first major international sporting event to offer an AV service to participating athletes. In July 2019, COAST Autonomous announced that it had been selected by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority to provide AV service in New Clark City during the SEA Games. Electric COAST P-1 Self-Driving Shuttles ran a service between the athletes’ village, the aquatic centre, and the athletics stadium. The aim of testing the shuttles at the SEA Games was to serve as a proof of concept for the larger deployments of AVs in New Clark City and other places.


Indonesia: Still experimenting with AV technology


AVs are still in the experimental stage in Indonesia. Nevertheless, they feature prominently in the country’s development plans. Indonesia plans to relocate its capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan. The new capital will implement a “smart, green, and sustainable city” concept. There are plans to use only autonomous and electric vehicles for mass transportation in the new capital. The public transport sector will use systems such as autonomous bus rapid transit (BRT) and autonomous railway. Private cars will also be autonomous or electric. This aligns with the Indonesian government’s vision of promoting electric cars, with the greater goals of reducing the country’s carbon emissions while simultaneously promoting the domestic production of batteries.


Currently, a team at the Indonesian Ministry of Transportation is conducting a study on regulating the use of AVs in the new capital.


Vietnam: Initial steps in AV deployment


The existing infrastructure, technology, and regulations in Vietnam are not geared towards the deployment of AVs. Despite this, there have been a few notable developments relating to AVs.


In October 2017, FPT Software introduced the first self-propelled car in Vietnam. In 2018, the company’s request to pilot its self-driving cars in Vietnam’s hi-tech zones and software parks received a positive response from the Transport Ministry.


In March 2021, Phenikaa Group introduced its prototype of a Level-4 AV. This marked the launch of Vietnam’s first smart self-driving vehicle. The vehicle is capable of smart functions, machine learning, and deep learning. It is equipped with artificial intelligence, 2D/3D maps, lidar (light detection and ranging), and SLAM (Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping) technology. The eco-friendly vehicle is electrical and has nearly 40 Level-4 self-driving features. It is not yet ready to be brought to market. More safety tests are required and more of these safety tests are also required at different locations. In addition, more research on reducing production costs is needed. Phenikaa Group has signed an MoU with Nippon Koei Vietnam, SICK Sensor Intelligence, Advantech Vietnam Technology Company Limited, BAP Group, and VEDAX to further the development of the autonomous industry.




Discussion about AVs in the Asia Pacific region usually focuses on China, Singapore, Japan, Australia, and South Korea, which are acknowledged as emerging AV leaders. AV deployment varies widely in the ASEAN region, with Singapore being a global leader and Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, and Lao PDR yet to explore the potential of AV technology. Some ASEAN countries have set their sights on becoming regional hubs for AV manufacturing and for the development of AV technology as the overall automotive trend worldwide moves in the direction of automation and electrification. With the global movement towards energy-efficient, sustainable, and clean transportation, and with ASEAN countries adopting policies in pursuit of this goal, the development of AVs and their role in the new transport ecosystem holds considerable potential for major changes.