Self-driving car Toyota shows off its self-driving car at the Consumer Electronics Show 2013 in Las Vegas. Flickr/David Berkowitz

Driverless cars could take up to four-fifths of the traffic off the roads of Asia's congested cities, in combination with sharing schemes, an expert told a city planning conference Tuesday.

"In the end what is exciting, I think, is you're going to have less cars on the road," said Carlos Ratti, director of the SENSEable City Lab run by US-based university MIT.

Smart technology allows resource sharing to improve the efficiency of urban infrastructure, he said, citing AirBnB, a Web-based forum for renting private accommodation, as an example.

His research showed that combining sharing programs with autonomous cars could allow cities in Asia and elsewhere to meet their mobility requirements with 20 percent of the traffic currently on their congested roads, he said.

Singapore was "monitoring very closely" the development of such systems, said Chua Chong Kheng, deputy chief executive of the Land Transport Authority.

Driverless buses and shared cars could solve the "first mile, last mile" problem, he said, referring to the gap between a passenger's residence or destination and the nearest public transport stop.

Ratti and Chua were speaking to the press after taking part in a panel at the World Cities Summit.

Concerns over the safety of autonomous vehicles could be addressed by incorporating the system into the designs of new cities, Ratti said.

The Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology is currently testing a fleet of driverless vehicles adapted from golf carts in the National University of Singapore's campus.

They are to be tested in residential areas this year to gauge public reaction.

Nanyang Technological University is also testing its own driverless vehicles, developed with Singapore's JTC Corporation and French company Induct Technologies. The vehicles currently shuttle passengers between NTU's campus and JTC Corporation's CleanTech Park.

Ratti said talks were under way to conduct a trial on the resort of Sentosa, a small island off the coast of Singapore developed mainly as a tourist attraction.

"The beauty of Sentosa is that it is a self-contained environment," he said. He gave no timeframe for the project.

The World Cities Summit brings together officials and experts to discuss sustainable urban management. It is held in conjunction with Singapore International Water Week and the CleanEnviro Summit.

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