EU Commissioner calls for intense G7 cooperation on driverless cars
In an exclusive interview with 2025AD, European Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc demands that the industry puts the citizens in the center of new mobility concepts - and takes a clear stance on data privacy.
It could be a landmark summit for driverless mobility: from September 23 to 25, the G7 Transport Ministers' Meeting will take place in the Japanese town of Karuizawa, Nagan. Representing the European Union, Violeta Bulc will be sitting at the table with the transport ministers of the world's leading industrialized nations. In an exclusive interview with 2025AD, Bulc lays out her agenda for the summit - and explains why she thinks automated driving will have a lasting positive influence on our lives.
Commissioner Bulc, have you ever had the chance to be driven in an automated car? What was it like?
Yes, I already had this pleasure several times. I was curious and excited, immediately thinking about the many opportunities that automation would create. For me it was just fun. But think of someone with reduced mobility, how much it would improve his or her life! Coming from the business sector, I was also asking myself, what impact these vehicles would have on existing business models. Not just taxis, but also delivery services, car makers, public transport.
With a master’s degree in IT, you have scientific expertise in the field of artificial intelligence. How do you personally perceive the incredible progress that Silicon Valley start-ups and the car industry are making in this field?
I am impressed, but not only by Silicon Valley. That's why we are trying to push this topic forwards, also at the G7 meeting. Automated and connected driving will again be on the Agenda when we meet by the end of this month. Working on the declaration we will adopt in Japan, my team has put strong emphasis on how to best use the new technologies, to maximise their value. I would think this is typically European: trying to understand what technology should actually serve for before putting in on the market. In the long term, this may prove to be an advantage.
You have stated that “autonomous vehicles could fundamentally change the current ownership model and have the potential to create an efficient multi-modal transport system and strengthen public transport.” What is your vision of such a multi-modal transport system?
The system I imagine is truly multimodal in the sense of integrating all modes and offering a real choice, including non-motorised traffic, to let people and cargo travel effortlessly from door to door. This kind of integration is starting to happen, with some car companies contributing to it already. But we are only at the beginning. I am convinced the rise of information technologies will take integration to a totally different level. Data will allow us to match supply and demand from the entire transport system in real time. That will mean an optimal use of resources, be it a
How will the European people benefit from automated and connected driving? How can public acceptance for this technology be achieved?
You wouldn't think it's difficult to convince anyone stuck in traffic of the benefits the technology brings. These vehicles will be a tremendous innovation, not least because of the improvements for road safety we can expect. However, at the moment the general public seems to be mainly preoccupied about cybersecurity and the possible hacking of vehicles. In addition there are concerns about privacy and data protection, especially among Europeans. These are legitimate concerns and they have to be addressed. I believe at European level, otherwise we will have no European market for connected and automated cars. When it comes to the accidents that happened in the US earlier this year, for me they show that 'hyping' new technologies is not helpful. It must be clear what the technology can, and what it cannot do. We should also have the courage to acknowledge that, unfortunately, technology is never 100 % risk-free, but that we do everything to make it as safe as possible. Safety must be priority number one! And clearly, automated vehicles will, overall, be much safer than today's cars, especially if they will be connected and cooperative. In that regard I very much welcome the statement that the industry wants to deploy vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication on the ITS-G5 standard, supplemented where necessary by cellular networks and broadcasting.
What is the EU Commission of Transport doing to facilitate the deployment of automated and connected driving?
The industry said earlier this year it wants to introduce the first services based on vehicle to vehicle, and vehicle to infrastructure communication as early as 2019. We will do everything to help meet that target, because we are fully aware of the potential that automated and connected driving has for transport, the automotive sector and for related industries. There are several work streams. First, the C-ITS Platform we have been hosting since July 2014 fosters the dialogue between Member States, public and private sector. It addresses all issues still hampering the deployment of C-ITS. In January 2016 the platform produced a report based on which, the Commission will publish a Master Plan for the deployment of interoperable Cooperative Intelligent Transport Systems in the European Union by end 2016. The Commission is also preparing a legal act to address key issues such as security, data protection and interoperability. These will be the first building blocks of a European framework for connected and automated vehicles that has been called for in the Amsterdam Declaration. Looking at automation, the Commission is running the automotive platform GEAR 2030 to develop a roadmap by the end of 2017. We are also co-funding technology development, trials and deployment, with more than € 210 million reserved this year alone. To ensure that different projects in Europe complement each other we will start a coordination process called C-ROADS later this year, involving 13 Members States. But any other project is welcome as well! We must share lessons learned and avoid duplications. Finally, we seek harmonisation also at international level. The US and Japan are obvious partners but we talk with everybody willing to advance connected and automated driving. At the upcoming G7 meeting in Japan I will call for more cooperation on technical rules, on research and critical issues such as cyber-security or data protection. Obviously, this work is complemented by numerous initiatives for the telecoms sector, such as the 'connectivity package' recently adopted by the Commission.
The industry has repeatedly urged national governments and the EU to create the legal framework for automated driving. Do you have specific expectations towards the industry when it comes to Automated Driving?
The industry can do a lot to ensure public acceptance. Citizens must feel their personal data is not a commodity, but they can effectively control how it is being used and for what. Secondly, citizens need to better understand the actual benefits of the new technologies. Cities are a good place to interact with them, and put them at the centre of new mobility concepts. Generally, cooperation needs to become more intense and more horizontal, across companies, between private and public sector, but also within companies, I feel. And certainly, public authorities like the European Commission need to change as well. Automated and connected driving is very complex, from a technical and a regulatory perspective. It will only work if from the beginning, everyone concerned sits at the table and contributes to the solution. That's the approach we follow with the C-ITS platform, and so far it has worked very well. A more inclusive approach will also pay off from a pure business perspective. Turning your company into platform will make it much more innovative and create much higher value. Data obviously play a crucial role in this. In the past we only had physical infrastructure, consisting of roads and vehicles. Today a data layer is being created on top of it, with static data, for example digital maps or traffic regulations, and dynamic data such as real-time traffic information or the data produced by the car. With these data a layer of innovative services can be created, such as e-tolling or fleet management, but not necessarily related to transport. I am sure that benefits will be huge if we ensure market access and fair competition on each of these layers, but I am aware this will not be easy.
Critics fear that autonomous driving will make millions of jobs obsolete, for instance in the logistics industry. Will this digital revolution happen at the cost of European workers?
Autonomous driving will have a profound impact on millions of professional drivers, no doubt about that. However, I don’t think it will make millions of jobs obsolete. First, it will not come overnight. Driver assistance technology already exists today. A lot more will be coming to the market over the next years, but the drivers will keep a certain degree of responsibility for quite some time. So, while the jobs will not become obsolete in the near future, they will slowly change. And we should use that time to let drivers develop new skills. It is essentially the question we ask ourselves every time a machine takes over human tasks. So far, the result has been a massive increase of productivity and wealth and the creation of new, but different jobs. What seems important to me is that workers have the means to adapt. If we make an effort to leave no one behind, Europe will remain at the forefront and the new jobs will be created here and not elsewhere.
What will you personally do during the free time gained through automated driving?
I will be reading or listening to podcasts. If I will have chosen the option of a 'scenic route' I will be enjoying the countryside. I could imagine a lot of things that are more fun and valuable to me than driving myself!
About Violeta Bulc:
Violeta Bulc is a Slovenian entrepreneur and former manager at Telekom Slovenia. She serves as European Commissioner for Transport since November 2014. Before joining the Commission, Bulc served as a Minister responsible for Development, Strategic Projects and Cohesion and Deputy Prime Minister in the centre-left Cabinet of Miro Cerar.
Ms Bulc's first deliverables as European Commissioner include a strategy for the aviation sector, successful negotiation of a railway reform, a strategy for low-emission mobility and the successful implementation of the Juncker investment plan for transport.
Is the European Commission doing enough to facilitate automated driving? What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comment section!