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See the First Driverless truck begins goods delivery at Singapore plant

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Singapore’s first driverless truck made its debut at Jurong Island on Tuesday (Oct 24). Belgian logistics company Katoen Natie is piloting the autonomous vehicle at US oil giant ExxonMobil’s integrated manufacturing hub.

It will be used to transport products between the company’s packaging and intermediate storage facilities, clocking in a distance of around 8km per round trip.

This comes as part of a move aimed at overcoming the difficulties in hiring truck drivers in Singapore, and the truck could soon be deployed on public roads.

The Belgian firm will pilot the use of the first truck 24 hours a day and seven days a week under a six-month trial.

If successful, 11 more trucks will be added to make up a fleet of 12 that will be able to move 3 million tonnes of cargo annually (each truck can move 250,000 tonnes of cargo).

Each movement between the plant and storage yard will involve the truck towing a 15.2-metre flatbed consisting of more than 20 pallets, which the cargo will be loaded on.

Various safety measures will also be implemented. These include demarcated speed zones with regulated speed controls built into the vehicle, the installation of key signs on roads within the facility and on the truck, as well as a safety bumper that  triggers an emergency stop when it comes into contact with objects.

The truck’s deployment on Jurong Island is the second phase of Katoen Natie’s autonomous truck project, which will see a General Packet Radio System (GPRS) replacing transponders, meaning that the vehicle now navigates by satellite.

The first stage of the project saw the trucks ply a fixed route in an enclosed area on Jurong Island via transponders installed under the road – similar to the function of signalling systems in trains that help them to communicate with the tracks.

The trucks will go on public roads in the final phase of the project.

Katoen Natie said the driverless trucks can bring substantial cost savings, improve productivity and address the challenge of finding truck drivers.

Mr Koen Cardon, CEO of the Belgian logistics firm, said: “Normally you need about four drivers for one truck; they will now be replaced by one supervisor who is working from the remote station, so that is a massive improvement in terms of productivity.”

“We see a growing shortage of drivers, young people are not choosing a career in driving a truck and in Singapore; we see the population of drivers – a lot of them are aging,” he said.

These trucks are examples of how the industry “continues to adopt automation to improve worker productivity”, said Mr Robert Johnston, manufacturing director at ExxonMobil’s Singapore chemical plant.

Meanwhile, Frederic Giron, vice-president and research director at Forrester Research agreed with the benefits autonomous vehicles bring, but also highlighted some safety concerns.

“I expect them to be extra careful and to run a huge amount of tests before they actually unleash these robots on the roads. That’s because if there is an accident, that will set the industry back quite a bit.”

Mr Damian Chan, executive director for energy and chemicals at the Economic Development Board, said: “The transformation of our industry cannot happen without a well-trained and future-ready workforce.”

Katoen Natie’s project is one of several involving autonomous vehicle technology initiatives in Singapore, as the country pushes ahead to roll out driverless vehicles from 2020.

The Land Transport Authority is set to deploy driverless buses on public roads by late 2020.

Port operator PSA Corporation will also run road trials of a truck platooning system, where a human-driven truck leads a convoy of driverless ones via wireless communication.

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Military patrols Ecuador’s capital as clashes resume and many defy curfew

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Armored military vehicles patrolled the streets of Ecuador’s capital, Quito, on Sunday after police and protesters clashed and many residents defied a curfew imposed by President Lenin Moreno in a bid to quell unrest triggered by fuel subsidy cuts.

Ecuadoreans posted videos on social media of burning road blockades and standoffs between crowds and security forces in downtown Quito ahead of the first round of talks aimed at ending 11 days of unrest.

The interior minister said a group of vandals had again set fire to the comptroller’s office and that some 500 people had defied police barriers in the city.

The unrest was the worst in the small South American country in more than a decade and the latest flashpoint of opposition to the International Monetary Fund in Latin America. Moreno has cast the dispute as a battle between Venezuela and other left-leaning forces and more market-friendly ideologies.

Nearly 60 roads in the city were closed, the municipal government said, without elaborating.

“Blocking roads is punishable by law and even more so during a curfew,” said councilman Bernardo Abad.

Indigenous protesters vowed to continue protests across the country until Moreno reinstates fuel subsidies, a sign that a potential breakthrough in the dispute announced on Saturday might fade under the government crackdown.

The first round of talks between indigenous leaders and the government was set to begin at 3 p.m. (2000 GMT) in Quito, although no announcement had been made yet on who would take part or where exactly it would be held.

Moreno signed a $4.2 billion deal with the IMF earlier this year, angering many of his former supporters who voted for him as the left-leaning successor of his former ally, Rafael Correa.

Moreno has defended his decision last week to slash fuel subsidies as a key part of his bid to clean up the country’s finances, and denies it was required by the IMF.

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Algerians protest against proposed energy law

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Hundreds of Algerians protested in front of parliament on Sunday against proposed changes to the energy law that they say the caretaker government has no right to pass.

The draft law was agreed by the cabinet on Sunday, interim president Abdelkader Bensalah was quoted by state media as saying. It must still be approved by parliament.

Protesters said the law was draw up by the caretaker government to secure support of Western countries in a standoff over mass protests that have rocked Algeria for months. The government did not immediately comment.

“The draft will allow us to start deep reforms in the energy sector and implement a development plan for Sonatrach,” Bensalah said, referring to Algeria’s national energy company.

The law is aimed at attracting foreign investors to help Algeria strengthen its energy output and improve revenues using their superior technology, but would maintain a 49% limit on foreign ownership if passed into law by parliament.

Sonatrach has met several major international oil companies in recent months, including Exxon Mobil and Chevron.

“The current tax system does not allow Sonatrach to make new discoveries,” Mustapha Hanifi, the hydrocarbons director at the energy ministry, said at a conference on Sunday.

“We need to discover more oil and gas to ensure the country’s energy security and its revenues,” he added.

Algeria’s economy and state revenues are highly dependent on the energy sector, and foreign currency reserves have more than halved since oil prices began to drop in 2014.

The weekly mass protests since February have toppled veteran leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika and forced the authorities to detain many senior officials on corruption charges.

The army, which has emerged as the strongest power in Algeria since Bouteflika stepped down in April, hopes a presidential election panned for Dec. 12 will help quell the protests.

But demonstrators have said the vote cannot be free or fair if the military and senior officials tied to Bouteflika retain political power.

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