Thai startup pilots self-driving electric tuk-tuk

That crazy tuk-tuk driver just may be a robot. A Thai startup has partnered with the government to manufacture the first electric AI (artificial intelligence) self-driving tuk-tuk – the signature Thai three-wheeled vehicle beloved by tourists and locals alike.

Start-up Airovr, investor Siri Ventures, and the Thai government will test the self-driving tuk-tuk inside a gated Bangkok community in a trial period. If the trial is a success, they would then allow the tuk-tuks on the open road. They hope that what they learn from the tuk-tuk trial can be transferred for use in larger vehicles such as minibuses.

Tuk-tuks get their name from the sputtering sound of their combustion engines. The electric AI tuk-tuks, however, are entirely silent. Tuk-tuk drivers have a reputation as daredevils on the roads, but the self-driving software will have safety as the priority.

Should the trials prove successful, Thailand would be the first country in Southeast Asia to produce a self-driving vehicle. According to the Singapore Straits-Times, “most autonomous-driving advancements in Asia come from East Asian companies – like Baidu and Toyota – spending billions of dollars on software development, tie-ups, and road tests.”

Amares Chumsai Na Ayudhya, the founder of the Bangkok-based startup Airovr, said his company chose the tuk-tuk as a test vehicle for self-driving technology because the three-wheeler is more energy-efficient than a car, requires fewer parts, and is cheaper.

“The program can build confidence among regulators and users that these vehicles can be used on public roads,” said Ekkarut Viyanit, principal researcher for the National Science and Technology Development Agency. “This will accelerate acceptance of the technology in Thailand.”

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