The driverless dream is quickly becoming closer to reality, and not just in Silicon Valley. Here we take a look at a few of the more unexpected places which are taking on the automated driving (AD) challenge.
Driverless tech is making huge strides all over the world, but making a world in which this new method of transport is ready for the road is about more than the vehicles themselves. Infrastructure, legislature and public acceptance all have huge roles to play. We’ve looked before at a few of the cities at the forefront of AD, but things have changed since then. Some projects have been slow to get off the ground, Tokyo never saw the Olympics for which self-driving vehicles were promised, and so we thought it was time to re-assess. Which cities are now preparing for a driverless future?
All aboard the driverless bus! Known as Norway’s capital of technology, it is perhaps not surprising that the first European on-demand self-driving bus is, this year, being piloted in Trondheim. Ordered via an app, the self-driving bus can carry up to six passengers and presents many possibilities for the future. Might the bus be a blueprint for the future of public transport? Is an on-demand service going to be key to connecting residential areas, and those not usually served by traditional public transport, to the cities? The answer may well lie in Trondheim.
Preparing for a driverless future isn’t just about the cars. In Barcelona, the Autonomous Ready Spain project is prioritising infrastructure in order to make sure that when autonomous vehicles (AVs) are ready, Spanish roads will be too. In its pilot project, a fleet of 400 vehicles have covered 45,000 kilometres a day, collecting information and mapping the roads with precision. This provides valuable data for both city planning and virtual AV testing, while showing how sectors can collaborate efficiently on the road to a driverless future.
It may not be the first city which springs to mind when considering the development of driverless tech in the UK, but Bristol is doing something different with the driverless pods now on the road at its airport. Designed to ferry passengers from car parks to terminals, the Capri project is testing truly driverless vehicles on roads shared with pedestrians, cyclists and other motorists. The airport is an ideal test bed and, with no engineer in place ready to take the wheel should anything go wrong, the project marks a real step forward in testing.
Self-driving taxis have been on the road in Dubai for a little while now, but the city has bigger ambitions when it comes to driverless tech. Those ambitions are becoming possible through legislation as the city has now passed laws which make it easier for self-driving vehicles to be tested on public roads. The Dubai Smart Mobility Strategy is aiming high too – by 2030 lawmakers aim to ensure that a quarter of journeys in the city are made in AVs!
Las Vegas, USA
A lot has been said about Waymo’s self-driving taxi service in Phoenix, but it’s not the only place you can order a ride without a driver. In Las Vegas, Lyft has logged 50,000 trips in its autonomous vehicles and, crucially, you don’t have to be an approved or selected user to go driverless – order a Lyft and an AV may turn up. That has the potential to do wonders for public perception in Vegas and beyond.
What comes after creating an AV? Testing, of course! Zalaegerszeg, in Hungary, is setting itself up as the perfect place to do just that. ZalaZone, an impressive track which includes elements of every imaginable obstacle on the road, has been positioned as the ideal testing ground for self-driving vehicles. “The future around us has begun,” it was stated at the opening ceremony. “It is called the digital economy, or Industry 4.0 and this project is the first ticket we have bought for the journey into that future.”
New York, USA
Driverless cars may not be an unexpected feature of New York, but a recently approved project to put autonomous buses to the test in the Lincoln Tunnel is certainly novel. Connecting New York and New Jersey, the tunnel is a lifeline for commuters but has become increasingly busy since it opened in 1971. Self-driving buses which are able to travel closer together, and more efficiently than human-controlled ones, could increase capacity during the morning rush hour by an impressive 30%. Could autonomy be the key to making sure reliable mass transit is an option into the future?