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Public self-driving car in the “first” mile

An artistic rendering of the mini self-driving cars to get you from your home to the nearest subway station … coming next year to Singapore. Image credit: QIQ Global

One usually talk about the “last mile” but in this case I find it catchier, and more appropriate, to call this the “first mile”.

A Singaporean start up, QiQ Global is planning is busy at work to deliver their (ugly) cars to help Singaporean get to the nearest subway station from their home.

The cars, named QiQ pod, actually a sort of sardine box 2.4m long and 1m wide able to sit 2, can be requested via an app. There will be between 300 and 600 of them starting 2021 that can be used to shuttle people back and forth between the MTR station and home. They are electric self-driving cars that leverage on the experience of QiQ operation of 400 eBikes and eScooters in Hanoi (Vietnam).

The very specific service offer simplifies logistics (there can be recharging stations at the MTR) and decreases cost. It also simplifies the self-driving since the area of operation will be limited and can be mapped with great precision. Besides, all QiQ pods can communicate with one another acting as sensors that constantly update the operation field.

All this increased simplicity and the bare-bone structure of the pods translates into low operation cost, hence low price to the consumer that should promote their use. There will be, I suspect, issue of peak times versus slow business times. During the rush hours they are likely to be in high demand, hence the need for having many of them serving the area, but once the rush hour is gone they are likely to sit idle (which may give them plenty of time to recharge) and this may make the business model more complicated than a shared service not constrained to operate in a limited area.

Will see. For sure it is interesting to see these kind of  the solutions being worked out. In the end they might even become an extension of the public MTR service and in that case the soundness of the business model should be measured by comparing the cost of extending MTR to serve a specific neighborhood versus using small pods to connect the existing line with it.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.