In recent years, Thailand 4.0 initiative, a policy to transform Thailand’s economy into a digitally powered ecosystem, has been strongly promoted by the Thai government and it has set itself the target of creating no less than 100 smart cities within its borders over the next 20 years. To conform with the policy, in July 2017, the Office of Transport and Traffic Policy and Planning (OTP), Ministry of Transport, has adopted the Intelligent Transport Systems (ITS) as part of its framework to control the traffic and road infrastructure in the cities for the next five years, and it is expected to develop autonomous vehicle (AV) systems within 20 years.
Current strategies and plan in Thailand
AVs are being mentioned in the draft 20-Year National Strategy B.E. 2560 – 2579 (2017 – 2036) and the 12th National Economic and Social Development Plan (NESDP) B.E. 2560-2564 (2017 – 2021) under the Development of Science and Technology section.
Advancement of technology, especially digital technology, will improve Artificial Intelligence and Automatic Systems in relation to Internet of Things (IoT) and will encourage the development of AVs, intelligent robots and programs, digital-based financial transactions, etc. The draft National Strategy and the current NESDP consider AVs as one of the new technologies that will be developed in the near future, and it will significantly affect the growth of an economy, social issues, and way of life.
However, the development of AVs is not included under the strategy implementation chapter of both the draft National Strategy and the NESDP.
Over the past years, educational institutions and universities in Thailand have been investing in the development of AVs. The Department of Mechatronics, Asian Institution of Technology (AIT) has begun to develop AVs for many models, i.e. four wheels and two wheels or Riderless Bicycles using the Global Positioning System (GPS) for navigation. As well as the AIT, the Department of Computer Engineering, Faculty of Engineering, King Mongkut’s University of Technology North Bangkok (KMUTNB) have developed successful AVs that have won many international awards. Nevertheless, the development of AVs by the AIT and the KMUTNB have never been utilized for commercial terms in Thailand.
Unlike those countries where development and trials of AVs are in a more advanced stage, the legal and regulatory framework in Thailand will need to be substantially revisited and improved should AVs be put into operation, as most of the main legislations governing road traffic and vehicles in Thailand have, at the time of their enactment, not been intended to apply to AVs.
Some examples are set out below:
The Vehicle Act B.E. 2522 (1979) (Vehicle Act), which governs registration of vehicles being used or operated in Thailand, only contemplates vehicles that are human driven. The operation of the AVs will require substantial amendment to be made to the Vehicle Act. Otherwise, it may not be legally practicable to register AVs as vehicles under the Vehicle Act.
Pursuant to the Road Accident Victims Protection Act B.E. 2535 (1992) of Thailand (Road Accident Act), owners of vehicles are required to procure and maintain insurance to cover loss or damages suffered by a victim caused by the vehicles. The term “vehicles” which are used in the Road Accident Act also refers to the vehicles under the Vehicle Act. Therefore, owners of the AVs will not be subject to the requirement to procure and maintain the insurance under the Road Accident Act, unless there is a change to include AVs under the legislation.
The operation of the AVs, which requires processing and transmission of a huge quantity of computer data, could give rise to concerns about cybersecurity. In Thailand, the Computer-related Crime Act B.E. 2550 (2007) (Computer Crime Act) was decreed to protect and prevent any computer-related crime, and essentially imposes penalties for any person who:
- illegally accesses computer data, for which there is a specific access prevention measure not intended for their own available use;
- illegally commits any act by electronic means to eavesdrop a third party’s computer data in the process of being sent in a computer system and not intended for the public interest or general people’s use;
- illegally damages, destroys, corrects, changes or amends a third party’s computer data, either in whole or in part; and
- illegally commits any act that causes the working of a third party’s computer system to be suspended, delayed, hindered or disrupted to the extent that the computer system fails to operate normally.
The Computer Crime Act may need to be further expanded to ensure that it deals with any criminal action related to operation of AVs, not just computer systems in a conventional sense.
Development of AVs in Thailand will undoubtedly require protection of related intellectual property rights. Under the current regimes, the technology related to AVs may be patented in Thailand, if:
- it is new;
- it involves an inventive steps; and
- it is capable of industrial application.
However, computer programs are not protected under the Patent Act B.E. 2522 (1979) of Thailand (Patent Act), which means software relating to operation of AVs cannot be patented. In addition to protection available under the Patent Act, AV-related technology may also be protected under the copyright laws, such as computer programs or codes relevant to the operation of AVs.
Once development of AVs has started to gain more traction in Thailand, further consideration will have to be made whether the current intellectual property regimes in Thailand are adequate to provide protection to those investing in such development.