January 11, 2019
Silicon Valley is the undeniable epicentre of autonomous vehicle (AV) development: 64 AV companies, including giants like Waymo and Apple, have set up shop in the area to test their vehicles. However, AV programs have spread throughout the world, with pilot projects taking place in over 47 cities around the globe. Here are five cities far from San Francisco’s tech hub that are nevertheless at the forefront of AV testing.
Phoenix, Arizona, is currently one of the most exciting cities for AV development, as the first to see the launch of a commercial driverless taxi service: Alphabet’s Waymo One. As of December 2018, Phoenix residents participating in Waymo’s testing programs can hail and pay for driverless rides throughout the city, and the program is expected to be rolled out to a broader pool of residents soon.
But how did Phoenix attract this development? In Arizona, state-level initiatives have, for the most part, advanced the AV industry rather than slowed it down. A more AV-friendly regulatory environment means it’s easier for companies to set up shop and operate at a lower cost, so it comes as little surprise that Phoenix is the first city to see a commercial AV service.
Another city ahead of the AV curve is Arlington, Texas, which has partnered with several companies including Milo and Drive.ai. Arlington’s approach has been focused on minibuses rather than single vehicles: the Drive.ai program is the first in the state to allow AVs on public roads, and offers free rides to the public in the downtown core. To attract the company, Arlington took the aggressive approach of offering payment to Drive.ai for the service. With a $435,000 price tag for a small pilot program, being first in the AV race is not cheap — the jury is out on whether public funds should be spent on these services in more cities going forward.
The AV revolution is unfolding differently in Europe, where governments have shown great interest in AV technology and are already looking at ways AVs can be used to improve public transport. One city that stands above the rest is Stockholm, Sweden, which is known for its concentration of innovative tech companies. As part of a partnership between several public and private agencies, the city tested out driverless buses in early 2018. The vehicles emphasized function over form and could only travel at restricted speeds, but were equipped with sensors to communicate with enabled traffic lights and bus stops. This type of public, functional and considered project is typical of the European approach to AVs: 21 countries across the EU have agreed to collaborate on large-scale automated transportation testing.
Much like other major cities, Singapore is currently fighting a big congestion problem. One potential solution the city has identified is the introduction of autonomous minibuses to move people around the city. To encourage this, Singapore has built a city-like testing facility, complete with intersections, traffic lights and crosswalks, all constructed to the standard that Singapore uses across the island. Companies are invited to test their vehicles in the complex, allowing the city-state to gather valuable data on how the AVs would perform in real-world situations. Singapore is now using this data to implement infrastructure changes on public roads in preparation of the arrival of driverless buses and shuttles.
Taking a similar approach is South Korean city Hwaseong, whose K-City is a mock town constructed entirely for testing AVs in lifelike situations. One of the largest dedicated AV testing facilities in the world, the project is a partnership between the Korean federal government and the city of Hwaseong and has cost 11 billion won ($9.8 billion USD). Companies will be invited to the city to test their AV technology—in fact, Samsung has already signed on to test a new 5G cellular network that would be a critical component of the artificial intelligence required for connected AVs.
Whether allowing independent companies to test autonomous vehicles or looking to incorporate AVs into public transport, these five cities are important players in the current transportation revolution. Fleet managers and politicians should be paying attention to these cities, in order to apply their lessons learned to their own spheres of influence.
Photo Credits: Drive.AI
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