Is Hong Kong ready for driverless vehicles?



Times have changed and so has technology, renewing and revitalizing itself almost every day. While many parts of the world are focusing on technological development, developing AI and having unmanned shops, Hong Kong is trying to catch up and follow suit. Nowadays, other countries are also opting for driverless vehicles, the technology being revised and tested. However, Hong Kong at this stage is still not yet ready for the new model.


First of all, the resources to support the production and development of the driverless cars are inadequate. The industry requires many talents, specialized in the field, and much capital. Although Hong Kong is enthusiastic about supporting IT development, the reality is that we still do not have all resources we need. In Hong Kong, the number of students studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) subjects and then entering the technological field is unfortunately small. Many are influenced by biased views to enter the medical and law fields instead. It is obvious that the number of local elites to have technological investment and research is too insufficient to help Hong Kong embrace the new car model. At the same time, Hong Kong lacks capital. There are many large projects ongoing or will be launched in the near future, like the Lantau Tomorrow Vision, and they have used up and will use up a large sum of government revenue. This situation gives rise to the concern of whether there are still remaining resources for the government to allocate on the development of autonomous vehicles.


Another reason is that the infrastructure and systems in Hong Kong are not suitable to support the operation of driverless vehicles. Hong Kong is infamous for its limited space. Roads are mainly narrow even in the more important economic zones, like Central, despite being the central business district. Not to mention the ones in old urban areas, with poor land use planning. It is already dangerous for vehicles to drive in crowded areas, so having no drivers to make correct judgements in complicated situations would only make matters worse. Besides, the current legislation in this regard is yet to improve. Who is to be at fault and bear the sole responsibility in case the unpredicted and unwanted accident involving no driver happens? Laws have to be set, being specific to the operation of the automated cars. For example, the maximum speed of driving has to be standardized and safety concerns should be addressed. Without proper planning and a reliable, trustworthy and just legal system, Hong Kong would never be ready for self-driving cars.


Last but not least, the readiness is dependent on the acceptance of the public, which is not widespread and still a doubt at the moment. Hong Kong has long been dealing with the problem of aging population and the elderly have always been known as being conservative and reluctant towards changes. Having driverless cars is not a traditional way for commuting and for the silver generation who knows much less about technology, it is definitely not something easily tolerable and acceptable. Moreover, there are still many unknown factors of the actual operation of such means of transport. The costs and risks that are to surface make the public feel insecure, unsure and hesitant towards the new concept of transport. Time is still needed for gaining the public acceptance before driverless vehicles can be successfully promoted.


Some may say that as long as the technology itself is mature, Hong Kong would always be ready for autonomous vehicles. Professionals in the US, the UK and state of California have already been conducting self-driving car tests. Especially when even the people working in the Silicon Valley are having an optimistic perception towards the car model, the technology is to be trusted. Hong Kong would just need to introduce it from other countries to have the vehicles ready. However, the mentality of people is not to be changed overnight. Scientific figures and proof would still be meaningless unless Hong Kong people can actually see how the vehicles are not dangerous types of transport. Time is still needed for people to feel rest-assured.


All in all, the many factors above contribute to why Hong Kong is not ready for driverless vehicles. Yet, no one knows about the future, which may be full of challenges, surprises and possibilities. Thus, even though Hong Kong is not ready now, it is possible that after some time, we would find the streets filled with driverless cars, with people inside leaning back on their seats relaxingly, letting their computers take the wheel. Time is the key.


2018-19 6C Chong Mei Sze