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With Nissan’s autonomous car & EU’s cross-border experiments, Europe is set to lead the mobility sector

The experimental vehicles, complete with cameras, radar, laser scanners and a boot packed with computers, repeatedly negotiated a six-mile course around east London without input from the driver — and without crashing.

This is the first time that Nissan has demonstrated its latest autonomous drive technology — the two all-electric LEAFs — on public roads in Europe. Nissan has already conducted public-road testing in Japan and the United States to pursue easy-to-use autonomous drive technology in real life situations.


Participants in the passenger and rear seats were given the opportunity to experience the technology, which consists of millimeter wave radar, laser scanners, cameras, high-speed computer chips, and a specialized HMI (Human Machine Interface), just to name a few. Nissan said the experimental ProPILOT technology, which allows drivers to take their hands off the wheel and feet off pedals on motorways or in city centres, will be widely available to consumers overseas from 2020.

German carmaker BMW has also said it plans to put a fleet of 40 autonomous test vehicles on the road in Europe and the US but that won’t happen until the second half of 2017, while Nissan’s demos were planned for Q1 of this year. BMW’s driverless technology is based on collaboration with Intel and Mobileye, an Israeli technology firm that develops vision-based driver assistance systems.

Last year Ford also announced it plans to start testing its autonomous vehicles on European roads by 2017 as it ramps up its robot car strategy. The US car manufacturing giant is moving ahead with European testing as it pursues its ambitious strategy to introduce fully autonomous vehicles for ride-hailing by 2021.

“It is important that we extend our testing to Europe,” said Thomas Lukaszewicz, Manager for Automated Driving – Europe, Ford. “Rules of the road vary from country to country here, traffic signs and road layouts are different, and drivers are likely to share congested roads with cyclists.”

Related Read: Smart Mobility – Developed Vs Developing Countries

Why do we need autonomous cars?

Autonomy advocates foresee an enormous reduction in automotive fatalities – now numbering 1.25 million globally every year, far more people than are killed in wars. That’s because computers, unlike human drivers, won’t get distracted, fatigued or drunk.

It’s also expected that the rise of self-driving taxis will help decrease the total number of cars on the road, alleviating the overall traffic. What’s more, because driverless vehicles are designed to optimize efficiency in acceleration and braking, they will also help improve fuel efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. In fact, adoption of autonomous cars could reduce CO2 emissions produced by cars by as much as 300 million tons per year, according to McKinsey.

Are governments ready?

Governments around the world are currently debating what policies and regulations should be in place to enable self-driving vehicles in our cities, whether that’s amending existing rules or creating new ones.

Recently, California became one of the first US states to draft a set of broad rules for the “autonomous test vehicles” on its roads. Among other requirements, the company running a test vehicle must put a driver behind the wheel as a fail-safe, and make it known to everyone on the road that the vehicle is an autonomous one, and whether it is running in remote mode at a given point in time.

The UK government is also planning to adapt its laws by this year to facilitate the development of driverless technology and they also plan to work on amending international law for it to cover autonomous vehicles by the end of 2018.

How to harness data?

Most car manufacturers would like to receive more data from vehicles. This would allow them to improve production of future models and options, to perform predictive maintenance and to enable advanced financial services on top of just selling the cars themselves. The expected growth of the value pool from car data and shared mobility could add up to more than USD 1.5 trillion by 2030, and the foreseeable proliferation of new features and services will turn ‘car data’ into a key theme on the agenda of the auto industry. New players (e.g., ‘high-tech giants, start-ups, service providers) are entering this competitive arena, as these companies are familiar with collecting enormous amounts of data, processing them, combining them with different sources, and deploying features and services that customers are willing to pay for.

Nissan’s autonomous car and EU’s cross-border experiments
Courtesy: McKinsey

To maintain its global lead in the area of connected and automated cars, 29 European countries, Members of the European Union and of the European Economic Area, have signed a Letter of Intent to intensify cooperation on testing of automated road transport in cross border test sites. This initiative drives forward the plans of the Commission’s strategy to build a European Data Economy announced in January 2017.

Member States and industry now need to collaborate to realise the EU’s ambitious vision for cooperative, connected and automated mobility in a Digital Single Market. Member States, supported by the Commission, will identify actions to be undertaken in the next months on the testing and large scale demonstration of connected and automated mobility (CAM).

Welcoming the signature, Andrus Ansip, Vice-President, Digital Single Market, and Günther H. Oettinger, Commissioner, Human Resources and Budget, both said: “Mobility has to work across borders. Almost all Member States agreed to work together on tests on the ground. It is a great success. Cooperation will focus on interoperability, data access and liability, as well as future 5G connectivity. The European Commission will facilitate this process and will continue to work with all Member States and interested parties on this matter.”