The tuk-tuk is a common sight in Thailand and pretty recognizable as the colorful, three-wheeled taxi that has been serving the region for decades. Soon the older design will receive an update to help the current market take on the changes that are coming.
Beginning in November, a public-private partnership will test the nation's first self-driving tuk-tuk in an effort to nudge Thailand towards the forefront of developing autonomous-vehicle technology in South-east Asia.
Startup Airovr, investor Siri Ventures and the Thai government will run the months long trial inside a gated Bangkok community, hoping that what they learn can be transferred into bigger vehicles like minibuses.
Most autonomous-driving advancements in Asia come from Chinese and Japanese companies - such as Baidu Inc, Pony.ai and Toyota Motor Corp - spending billions of dollars on software development, partnerships and road tests. South-east Asia doesn't have a local champion, so Thailand views the technology as a way to bolster - and keep relevant - an auto industry generating 12 per cent of its gross domestic product.
"The programme can build confidence among regulators and users that these vehicles can be used on public roads," said Ekkarut Viyanit, Principal Researcher for the government's National Science and Technology Development Agency. "This will accelerate acceptance of the technology in Thailand."
"The tuk-tuk was chosen as a test vehicle because the three-wheeler is more energy-efficient than a car, requires fewer parts, is cheaper and is more suitable for the country's hot weather," said Amares Chumsai Na Ayudhya, Founder of Bangkok-based Airovr.
But this isn't the usual ornate three-wheeler you see on the chaotic streets of Bangkok and other tourist spots in Thailand. The Airovr model has a minimalist design, with screens depicting speed and how much electricity is in the tank.
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