Katoen Natie close to start operating its first autonomous truck in Singapore
If the POC (Proof Of Concept) is successful, eleven more Katoen Natie trucks will be equipped with autonomous driving technology. Elsewhere in the world, including in Europe, experiments by several companies with autonomous trucks have been advanced to implementation stage. There are three phases in the Katoen Natie Singapore development project. At each stage, the environment and the required technology becomes more complex and challenging. Phase one of the projects is to operate twelve autonomous trucks in an enclosed area of a petrochemical plant. “In that phase, trucks are being guided based on transponders installed in the designated driveways” said Koen Cardon, who gave the opening lecture at the Mission of Belgian startup companies (Startups.be) in the Southeast Asia City state.
In the second phase, the transponder system will be replaced by a GPRS system to operate the autonomous trucks within the Jurong Island industrial site. The third and most challenging phase is the introduction of autonomous truck technology on the public road outside the industrial area. ”Truck drivers are hard to find in Singapore. Most of them are over fifty years old and young people have no desire to become a truck driver.” Katoen Natie is the pioneer of this Singapore Autonomous Truck project and entered into collaboration with the Singapore Management University for the market study of autonomous technology.
Katoen Natie did select the Dutch VDL group as the technology partner for this project. “They are establishing an innovation center in Singapore and are very ambitious here,” says the CEO of Katoen Natie Singapore. “Furthermore VDL has already successfully implemented similar projects in Europe.”
Another very important partner in this Autonomous truck Project is the Singaporean government. This project is strongly supported by the Singapore government as it is in line with the Singapore vision to be at the forefront of innovation and automation.
According to Koen Cardon, the government currently has four projects for autonomous vehicles in the pipeline: an autonomous car, a bus, the Katoen Natie project and, last but not least the new Tuas Port project where all transport and container handling will be autonomous. “We are very proud as Katoen Natie to be one of the Innovation Partners in Singapore” says Koen Cardon.
“Autonomous trucks can bring very substantial savings. To operate twelve trucks 24 hours a day and seven days a week, you need four teams of 12 drivers. These drivers will not all be made redundant, but can be assigned to other job functions in our company. With limited availability of trucks drivers in Singapore, moving to autonomous transport is the right path forward. We need a system where transport is more automated.”
If the autonomous truck project is successful in Singapore, does Antwerp follow? Koen Cardon is careful: “First, let’s focus on making the project successful in Singapore. We must be very careful not to create too much complexity.” The CEO explains that it is not that straightforward to duplicate the project elsewhere. “In Antwerp, for example, the environment is different. You need to take into account the different weather conditions, snow for example. You also have a different framework of cooperation with the unions and government authorities in every region whereby it is important to reach consensus with all stakeholders. The conditions can be different by country but the key is the technology and Singapore is the right place to introduce innovative solutions.”