Autonomous public transportation in Indonesia's new capital: What to prepare

First driverless Volvo Electric bus
First driverless Volvo Electric bus has sensors under control of AI (NTU) NTU

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) hoped that driverless public transportation and vehicles will be available in the country's planned capital in East Kalimantan, expected to commence operation in 2024, leading to the question how ready Indonesians are to embrace the autonomous technology.

"Mass transportation will be autonomous there. Private cars will also be autonomous or electric," Jokowi stated in his opening remarks for the Indonesian Young Entrepreneurs Association (Hipmi) as The Straits Times reported.

In the early stage, buses will be the first autonomous vehicles as there is no specific infrastructure needed for the bus operation. Such an autonomous bus will operate on a toll road connecting Balikpapan and the new capital city.

The idea of building self-driving mass transportation is not a surprise as several countries have operated driverless buses in certain cities. Indonesia's neighbor Singapore started trials for autonomous buses from August 2019 to November 2019. It is expected that the buses will commence full operation in 2022.

The funding

Minister of National Development Planning Suharso Monoarfa said on Wednesday (January 15) that Japan-based Softbank Corp will help Indonesia to build autonomous transportation in North Penajam Paser and Kutai Kartanegara, Indonesia's planned capital.

Softbank Corp.President Masayoshi Son has previously discussed his interest in investing in Indonesia's new state capital with Jokowi. Besides Japan, other countries like South Korea, the U.S, the U.K, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are ready to develop in North Penajam Paser Regency, East Kalimantan.

"We won't discuss the specific number yet, but a new smart city, the newest technology, a clean city, and a lot of AI [artificial intelligence] – that's what I'm interested in supporting," said Son last Friday when asked about investment in the project as The Jakarta Post reported.

Are Indonesians ready?

The development of self-driving transportation in Indonesia may take longer, as not all Indonesians are familiar with electric cars. Therefore, the government will start trials for electric vehicles first in Puncak (West Java) and Bali, Minister of Transportation Budi Karya Sumadi said.

"We will test electric vehicles first, so when we decide to operate autonomous electric vehicles, we have experience in managing that," the minister said as quoted by Katadata.

In such a developed nation like the U.S, not all people are ready with autonomous technology. A JD Power research involving 5,000 respondents in the U.S in July 2019 showed that autonomous vehicles gained less public trust due to concerns over technical errors.

Therefore, Indonesia needs to prepare the quality of the workforce in the transportation sector as the country is entering Industrial Revolution 4.0 when vehicles have switched from conventional machines to integrated autonomous automotive technology using Artificial Intelligence (AI).

This article was first published on January 17, 2020