Researchers and the government are keeping quiet as video emerged showing an apparent test of an autonomous vehicle (AV) on a public Hong Kong road in June this year.
In video shared online, AV test vehicle “Hercules” is seen making hesitant progress around the streets, including several false stops for no apparent reason. But the machine does appear to obey all traffic laws and stops correctly for pedestrians waiting at several zebra crossings.
A Movement Permit for the vehicle, seen by Transit Jam, covers the vehicle for autonomous use on certain public roads around the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) with a maximum speed of 20 kph, although that permit was only issued on 29 August, 67 days after the date of the trial video.
It is not known if Hercules had a prior Movement Permit at the time of the videoed trial, with Transport Department refusing to comment and HKUST not responding to questions.
Hercules is one of about 50 similar vehicles launched in Shenzhen and Shanghai, designed by Professor Ming Liu at HKUST’s Intelligent Autonomous Driving Centre and said to be the first “Level 4” automated vehicle in Hong Kong.
“We will have media announcement concerning the AV road test soon on our website and social media channels,” said the HKUST Public Affairs Office in an email.
In July, the government proposed to update the Road Traffic Ordinance to allow more extensive AV testing where the existing law “hindered the trial or use of AVs”. Lawmakers supported the plans and urged a change in law “as early as practicable” according to minutes from a Transport Panel meeting. One lawmaker suggested introducing AVs at the Global Geopark in Sai Kung “to facilitate leisure activities”.
But public testing of AVs has been fraught with danger: in 2018, a self-driving Uber killed a woman in Tempe, Arizona. Officials in Arizona had declared the state a “regulation-free zone” in 2015 to attract the growing number of AV startups, including Uber, Waymo and Lyft.
The HKUST concept vehicle was originally introduced designed to “fight against the Covid-19 pandemic” by offering deliveries around campus without human-to-human contact. Researchers planned to use it to deliver meals to university members “quarantining at the University’s Conference Lodge,” says HKUST publicity material.
The vehicle, with the footprint of a small car and only about as tall as former Chief Executive Carrie Lam, was delivered in October 2020 and has undergone extensive testing around the campus and on private land, according to HKUST’s website.
The project has been funded by “generous support” from the Transport Department and the government, although figures are not available.
MTR and Airport Authority have both expressed interest in the project.