Cities Worldwide Embracing Self-Driving Vehicles

The realization self-driving vehicles are going to have a major impact on transportation is beginning to sink in. Here's how cities around the world are preparing for self-driving cars.

The realization self-driving vehicles are going to have a major impact on urban transportation is beginning to sink in. Mayors, transportation companies and urban planners are taking notice of the rapid developments around self-driving vehicles.

Following the hype and recognizing the benefits, the number of cities planning for a world driven by self-driving cars increases daily.

American cities set the pace

Beyond the widely publicized trials in California and Michigan, seven prominent US cities are determined to be pioneers by integrating self-driving cars into their transportation network.

San Francisco, Austin, Columbus, Denver, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and Portland all received a $100,000 grant from the US Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge to refine earlier proposals on how to transform their urban transportation systems. Uber, of course, is testing self-driving taxis in Pittsburgh.

Otto, the self-driving truck company acquired by Uber for nearly $700 million, made its first delivery. Using a modified Volvo 18-wheeler that has dozens of cameras and sensors, the Otto self-driving truck drove 120 miles on Oct. 20, 2016 carrying 51,744 cans of Budweiser from Fort Collins, Colo. to Colorado Springs.

Beverly Hills earlier in 2016 passed a resolution aimed at the long-term adoption of self-driving cars. The council’s vision is for self-driving vehicles to provide on-demand, point-to-point transportation, with citizens requesting a ride using their smartphone. The shuttles wouldn’t replace public transportation, but augment it, says Beverly Hills Mayor, John Mirisch.

Boston will start on-street testing of self-driving cars by the end of 2017. Many of the programs details haven’t been revealed, but the city has partnered with the World Economic Forum to launch the year-long program to test self-driving cars

Europe Playing Catch-up

In Europe, where Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) have already achieved a high level of acceptance in series production cars, the first test drive of self-driving cars took place on the A2 motorway connecting Amsterdam with the Belgian border in March 2016 – years after the fleets of cars in California.

The primary reason for this apparent inertia to adopting self-driving cars can be found in the very structure of the European Union, where legislation regarding testing of self-driving cars on public roads is restrictive and complex: Manufacturers have to abide by a U.N. regulation limiting cars without human drivers from going faster than 10 km per hour. Negotiations to amend this ruling won’t be concluded before the second half of 2017.

Notwithstanding the challenges, the March trials in the Netherlands were a tangible sign the Dutch national government aims to take the lead in facilitating the testing of self-driving vehicles in Europe. To achieve this, legislation has already been amended by the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment (I&M) in 2015 in preparation for the implementation of large-scale tests with self-driving passenger cars and trucks on public roads.

Under the amended legislation, Dutch vehicle approval authority RDW has the option of issuing an exemption for self-driving cars under specific conditions: Companies that wish to test self-driving cars must first convince and demonstrate that the tests will be conducted in a safe manner, before submitting an application for admission.

Demonstrating the intent of the Dutch people, in April 2016 more than a dozen self-driving trucks made by six of Europe’s largest manufacturers were driven to Rotterdam’s port in so-called “truck platoons.”

The Dutch Province of Gelderland has launched a project with driverless shuttles. These self-driving Wepods aim to revolutionize public transport and provide a new, cost-effective way to bring public transportation to under-served areas.

And despite the difficulties encountered across the EU region, road testing of autonomous vehicles is still taking place. In Finland, versions of a driverless bus, the Easymile EZ-10, roamed suburban Helsinki during a month-long trial.

In Sweden, Volvo will begin testing 100 cars in 2017. The testing environment will be limited to certified roads in Gothenburg, weather limitations, no traffic lights, no pedestrians and no bicycles allowed. The maximum speed will be restricted to 70 Kmh.

Taking a different approach to the restriction of testing on public roads, start-up Self-Driving Track Days has been formed with the sole purpose of promoting the testing of fully autonomous cars across Europe. The testing will be private and is designed to allow any team that develops autonomous vehicles to test its accomplishments in a controlled environment.

The first Self-Driving Track Day event took place Nov. 10 at the UK’s Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground. Researchers there will be able to experiment with the settings, sensors, and software of their autonomous vehicles. The first event of this kind in Europe has access to a 1.6-kilometer long multi-lane motorway straight, which will be used for the first driverless tests of independent projects.

Unlike events reserved for automakers, Self-Driving Track Days is designed to encourage inventors, innovators, and researchers to explore diverse solutions, in the hope of speeding up time-to-market. Instead of charging massive levies to allow the rental of a track or a research institute, the event will offer access to specialist training from industry professionals without the enormous costs usually assosciated with the development of new technologies.

Automotive companies, start-ups, and students will be urged to join and form multi-partner teams at the networking meet-up events organized in various venues, such as the Google Campus in London and AutoWorld Brussels.

The Isle of Man’s government is reportedly setting up a focus group with the aim of evaluating how self-driving cars would work on the island, and whether laws need to be changed to accommodate self-driving car research.

The group is also considering incentives the government could offer to companies in order to persuade them to set up self-driving car research facilities on the island. Phil Gawne, the island’s Minister for Environment, Food & Agriculture, says that the group’s work could take as little as a month, with the necessary legal changes complete just two or three months after that.

“Things can be tried on an island that may not be practical in a city,” said David Alexander, Senior Research Analyst at Navigant Research.

“On the mainland there will always be someone who wants to go beyond the range of the trial and will then proclaim how useless autonomous cars are.”

Asian outmaneuvering Western counterparts?

Singapore’s Autonomous Vehicle Initiative has created what is possibly the most active and visionary city with respect to driverless transportation. Partnering with MIT on future urban mobility the city has initiated several projects aimed at improving urban transportation systems through self-driving car technology. The most notable project being the first self-driving taxi service by nuTonomy.

With its traffic congestion and high accident rate, Shanghai plans to populate a 100 square kilometer area with highly automated cars in three to five years. The city has already created an enclosed testing demonstration base, known as the National Intelligent Connected Vehicle Pilot Zone. But at this stage it is much smaller than the 32-acre Mcity set up in Michigan. The project called “a nice city” is planned for Jiading District, home to nearly 70 percent of the city’s car manufacturers, and 80 percent of all automotive research and development.

Xie Fei, deputy general manager of the China Automotive Engineering Research Institute believes China’s advanced communication infrastructure, based on 5G, puts the local auto industry on an equal footing with other global markets.

Shanghai’s test demonstration zone will experiment with two mainstream V2X communication technologies, DSRC and LTE-V.

From 2018 to 2019, the test area will expand to cover the entire Anting Town, deploying a fleet of 5,000 automated cars in a 100 square kilometer area that includes highways. During the final stage, planned for 2020, highly connected corridors will link Anting with Hongqiao Transportation Hub, supporting 10,000 self-driving cars on 500 kilometers of roadway.

About the Author

Peter Els, an automotive engineer by profession, is a freelance writer who informs and entertains industry professionals and car enthusiasts alike. Check out more of Peter’s musing on cars at his Writing About Cars blog.


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