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10 cities at the forefront of automated driving

Which cities are racing ahead? (Photo: Fotolia / eyetronic)

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Kate Mann
Kate Mann
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Driverless cars are setting off at different speeds. Whilst in some places they still seem like a futuristic vision, elsewhere the idea (and the vehicles) are already in motion. So which cities are getting ahead?

The vehicles alone are not enough. The software alone is not enough. The legislation alone is not enough. For automated driving to become mainstream, the systems need to be tested, understood, accepted and ultimately, used. The best way to do this? Put the wheels on the road! Let’s go on an international road trip to discover which cities are embracing driverless technology.

Beverly Hills: A municipal autonomous shuttle system by 2023

Photo: Fotolia / f11photo

Beverly Hills always has an eye on the latest happenings! And driverless tech is no exception. In April 2016, the City Council approved the mayor’s plan to develop a municipal autonomous shuttle system - the first of its kind in the United States. The idea is to provide shuttles for around 8 to 12 passengers that can be hailed by smartphone. Scheduled to coincide with the opening of the Beverly Hills subway station in 2023, it is hoped the system could tackle the so-called first/last mile problem. Whether or not resident celebrities might use them too remains to be seen!

Tokyo: Driverless vehicles for the 2020 Olympics

Photo: Fotolia / eyetronic

Hosting the Olympics is no walk in the park. Especially if you throw in additional extras. But that’s exactly what Japan has decided to do. Ahead of the 2020 summer games, political and business leaders from the tech-savvy country have promised to have self-driving vehicles moving people around during the event. Toyota, Nissan and Honda are all said to be working on different ideas, whilst local company Robot Taxi - a joint venture between a robotics firm and a mobile internet pioneer – has announced plans to develop thousands of driverless vehicles. Ambitious as the country’s plans might seem, we shouldn’t forget that last time the Olympics came to town in 1964, the bullet train was born.

Gothenburg: Autonomous SUVs to be tested by customers in 2017

Photo: Volvo Car Corporation

Swedes in the lead. In May 2014, a joint initiative between Volvo and local agencies was announced. Backed by the national government, the initiative is described by the company as “the first real world trial of autonomous cars.” Known as Drive Me, the scheme will see SUVs be tested by actual customers on actual roads. There is of course another factor that puts countries such as Sweden on driverless car producers’ radar: snow! In contrast to the hot bed of innovation in California, Scandinavia enables tests to be carried out in harsh weather conditions – essential if the technology is to prevail as days get shorter.

London: Project launched to investigate perceptions

Photo: Fotolia / Iakov Kalinin

It seems fitting that in the UK, it is Greenwich that is keeping up with the times. The London district is home to the 8-million-pound GATEway project; launched to investigate the use, perception and acceptance of autonomous vehicles in the UK. One of the specified goals of the project is to “accelerate the take-up of driverless car technology in the UK and beyond.” Earlier this year, as part of the project, Londoners were invited to register to participate in the first UK trials of fully electric, automated, pod-like vehicles. Those taking a test ride will be interviewed before and after. Perhaps a “pod”cast would be appropriate here?

Singapore: Driverless cabs since September 2016

Photo: nuTonomy

In early September 2016, Singapore became the first place to launch driverless taxis. With several companies across the world working on the idea, it was nuTonomy – a small MIT spin-out – that took first place in the race as they deployed six driverless cabs in a business park. The plan is to have a fully operating fleet in operation by 2018. One of those pushing the driverless vision forward is Permanent Secretary for Transport Mr. Pang Kin Keong, who hopes to introduce on-demand, point-to-point pods to bring people from their doorstep to other modes of public transport. His aim is to tackle issues created by limited manpower and limited land.

Pittsburgh: Self-driving Uber taxis since September 2016

Photo: Fotolia / Konstantin L

With Uber’s Advanced Technologies Center based in the city, Pittsburgh has become a key player when it comes to driverless technology in the United States. According to the company, the city provides “an ideal environment to develop and test our technology across a wide variety of road types, traffic patterns and weather conditions.” In September 2016, shortly after the above-mentioned Singapore launch, a select group of Uber users were able to choose the option “self-driving car” when ordering their pick-up. The 14 vehicles available on the app are being tested in real-life situations so as to help refine the technology. Would you give them a go?

Amsterdam: Mercedes Future Bus trials initiated in July 2016

Photo: Daimler

Amsterdam-Schiphol airport is one of the biggest and busiest in the world. Luckily getting there and back could become highly streamlined in the future. A semi-automated bus equipped with Mercedes' most recent autonomous driving platform CityPilot has been spotted on a 12-mile (19 kilometer) stretch between the airport and the town of Haarlem. Although currently in a test phase, it seems the company has big plans for the bus. They have referred to it as the “public transport of the future.” And the name? The Future Bus!

Perth: Driverless bus tests underway since September 2016

Photo: Fotolia / Marcella Miriello

On that subject, the wheels on the bus are also going round and round on the other side of the world. Perth was the first Australian city to trial an entirely driverless bus. Known as the RAC Intellibus, it has a top speed of 15.5 mph. Rather than replacing conventional bus routes, it has been introduced to cover the final part of a journey. At present the bus operates with a steward and has various “emergency stop” buttons on board.

Boston: On-street testing scheduled for the end of 2016

Photo: Fotolia / rabbit75_fot

The World Economic Forum recently selected Boston as a focus city for the future of mobility. Resulting in a year-long project, the city will initiate on-street testing of autonomous vehicles. The aim is to help create policy recommendations and prepare the city for a driverless future. At present, it is not clear which companies or how many vehicles will be involved in the scheme, however with testing due to start at the end of this year – all should soon be revealed.

Beijing: Fully autonomous cars for commercial use by 2019

Photo: Fotolia / SeanPavonePhoto

Chinese web services company Baidu reportedly plans to have fully autonomous cars in commercial applications by 2019. This would be followed by mass production and widespread distribution by 2021. Research has suggested that a Chinese audience could be more accepting of driverless technology than others, putting the country in a strong position to adopt the technology. With the capital repeatedly making headlines due to congestion and pollution – could driverless cars offer a road to recovery?

Author: Stephan Giesler

Do you have a city to add to the list? And why do you think there are so few European cities at the forefront of driverless technology? Tell us in the comments section below!

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Kate Mann
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