Gold, silver, bronze: who are the frontrunners in the ‘Driverless Olympics?’
Private Life and Mobility
Back in 2015, Tokyo announced that autonomous vehicles would ferry athletes, visitors and potentially even spectators to and from venues at next year’s Olympics and Paralympics. In keeping with this vision, a fully driverless taxi debuted on the streets of Tokyo last year and Toyota have revealed they aim to have their driverless e-Palette taxi / minibus transporting VIPs on specially designed routes across the city.
Both Tokyo and Japan on the whole are working hard to get driverless vehicles on the road, earning them 11th place on KPMG’s Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index. But who else is up there with them? We took a look at the countries who have placed autonomous driving high on the priority list, with a precious place on the ‘Autonomous Olympics’ podium.
Vast, beautiful and with some of the best driving roads in the world, Norway wouldn’t immediately catch the eyes of car manufacturers; after all, there are only around 4 million people in the entire country and around 2.7 million vehicles. However, digging deeper into the figures shows a nation of car owners who are ready for change.
At the beginning of 2019, there were 195,351 electric cars in Norway, with a staggering 60% of car sales in 2018 being made up by battery-powered vehicles. Norway’s commitment to moving away from fossil fuels goes all the way from the highest levels of government right into households, with the government offering benefits like tax exemptions, free parking and free charging points to tempt consumers to save money and the environment by going electric.
This willingness to adapt to a new way of doing things is one big reason why Norway makes the top three, but the fact that driverless transport already exists in the capital Oslo is another huge tick in the box. In April this year, driverless buses began to operate in Oslo city centre. This means that autonomous driving has already been accepted and ratified on a local government level, making it easier to sell to decision-makers higher up the chain – as long as it is a success.
The final factor is that Norway’s road infrastructure is actually pretty good. Even the most remote roads feature safety barriers and markings that are regularly re-painted, making it a lot easier for autonomous vehicles to navigate safely.
If you’ve ever visited Singapore, you’ll know just how restrictive it is to own a car. The city takes a hard line when it comes to ownership, taxations, tolls and congestion charges in order to keep the busier parts of the city-nation safer less polluted. It seems that driverless cars are now the preferred method for cutting that restricted number of vehicles to an even smaller figure.
Singapore is already well ahead of the competition too; driverless cars have been allowed to operate since 2017 and the government has already started trialling driverless buses. But the biggest reason for their place on the podium is the government’s commitment to autonomous vehicles.
In February 2017, Singapore’s Ministry of Transport signed off on full autonomous vehicle testing on public roads, meaning that driverless vehicles could be developed in real-world conditions. But even that huge step may not have been needed.
In partnership with Nanyang Technological University, Singapore created the world’s first mega-scale autonomous vehicle test bed – in the form of an entire town.
Despite these big steps towards automation, there are a few reasons why Singapore just misses out on the top spot. As mentioned, tough restrictions on vehicle imports and high car ownership taxes, which make up almost 4% of tax revenue collected in the entire nation, mean that actually getting driverless vehicles into the hands of consumers is still tough. There’s also fact that the oil-rich nation is proving slower to adapt to alternative technologies, with electric vehicles only making up only around 4% of the 600,000 private vehicles registered in Singapore.
Gold: The Netherlands
Just pipping Singapore to the stop spot is the Netherlands, topping the 2019 Autonomous Vehicle Readiness study. The Netherlands gained high scores in policy & legislation, technology & innovation, infrastructure and consumer acceptance, showing that Dutch politics and culture are ready for driverless vehicles on the whole. In March, the Dutch government announced a new legal framework for driverless vehicles, including a type of ‘driving license’ awarded to self-driving cars. Yes, you read that right – a license for the vehicle, not the owner.
On top of that, there’s also the army of self-driving trucks that will transport mainly flowers to ports and neighbouring countries. This ‘platoon’ of fully self-driving heavy goods vehicles uses one lead truck driven by a human, with several autonomous trucks following behind and braking, changing direction or accelerating in line with the vehicle in front, all thanks to smart AI. Journeys along the ‘tulip corridors’ into Belgium and Germany will take place at night in line with current delivery schedules and when the roads are quieter, with 5G enabled smart traffic lights ensuring the autonomous road trains don’t get split up.
One challenge that faces the Netherlands is the prevalence of bicycles on Dutch roads, especially in urban areas. Dealing with pedestrians and other vehicles is tough enough for AI, but smaller bicycles that often travel faster than cars in Dutch cities pose a whole new safety issue. To combat this, the focus is currently on motorways and avenues that feature cycle lanes completely separate from the driving surface, but it will be interesting to see if bikes and driverless vehicles can one day share roads without as many safety concerns.
How does your country rank in the KPMG report? Do you live in the Netherlands, Singapore or Norway and agree with the rankings? Join the debate and let us know what you think about sharing the road with driverless vehicles.
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