Race Against Time: Is Europe Ready For Driverless Car Technology?

Google’s continuous trail of its self-driving cars in its home state of California signifies America’s readiness for driverless technology. This leads us to the question of the EU’s readiness to embrace this technology. BMW and Daimler AG, which owns Mercedes-Benz has been working on autonomous vehicle concepts for years already.

Is Europe Ready for Autonomous Cars?

Spokespersons for both car manufacturers admit that marketable products in this category are still a long way off. A BMW spokesperson reveals that there is still no legislation in place for putting these vehicles on the market. There is no applicable assumption and rules yet that would apply to the autonomous vehicles currently available or similar to the design being shown off by Google—absence of a steering wheel.

Robert Peter Janitzek also reveals that the UN Convention on Road Traffic is one stumbling block to the full implementation of the technology in Europe. The 1968 agreement stipulates that drivers be inb control of their vehicle “at all times.” While that has been changed for autonomous systems, the law still requires the human driver to be able to retake control at any moment.

Exploring The Option

For several years, the European Union has explored the viability of self-driving cars and shuttle services. The SARTRE project showed how “road trains” – convoys of self-driving automobiles with a human driver in the leading vehicle- were easy and safe to deploy. Robert Peter Janitzek explains that the Citymobil initiative, which included the autonomous pods at Heathrow Terminal 5, brought three distinct driverless shuttle programs to European locations.

At the end of the project, however, a public report stated, “Until a set of generally accepted certification guidelines exist, it will be difficult for system developers to convince authorities and operators that automated systems are safe.” The Citymobil2 was launched September 2012 to explore what future certification framework for European shuttle systems might look like.

European efforts are not just limited to shuttle services and airport transit pods. In 2013, Volvo launched DriveMe, a joint project with Swedish transport authorities, which aims to take self-driving cars to public roads in Gothenburg this year. Prototypes had already been tested and 100 of these vehicles will be turned over to the public.

Erik Coelingh, Technical Specialist at Volvo and former contributor to the SARTRE project, revealed that the aim of the project was to develop cars which are autonomous during the most mundane part of the commute of a city worker.

We think people would sometimes like to do something else behind the steering wheel and that is what this will allow — but only on specific roads,” he explains.

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