Gradually and steadily, the number of autonomous vehicles (AVs) on the roads around the world is increasing. The mobility landscape is changing or rather expanding with the advancement of technology. Today, over 47 cities across the world are piloting self-driving cars. Others are focusing on rolling out autonomous public transport.

With the deployment of autonomous cars, buses and trams, smart cities are focusing on introducing sustainable emission-free transportations. In addition, the emphasis is also on solving major issues like traffic congestion. The ultimate vision of having an autonomous mobility system is to improve the quality of life and create healthier and greener cities. As a matter of fact, having such an independent transport system will open doors of accessibility for the disabled and elderly as well. 

This time, we have come up with some of the latest initiatives in the world of autonomous vehicles. Each one has a definite purpose behind the rollouts.  

Doha – Introducing the World’s First Emission-Free & Autonomous Public Transport System

Recently, in 2019, Doha announced the completion of its driverless metro network. The project was a 20-year contract awarded to RKH Qitarat by Qatar Rail. The enterprise is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the entire metro network comprising three lines and 37 stations. This includes the much-awaited Lusail tram network expected to open this year in 2020. 

The new driverless metro network is Qatar’s first urban rail system and a crucial element of the Qatar Vision 2030. The vision is a strategic plan of the Qatar government to improve Doha’s position in terms of shared mobility options. Progressing ahead in line, Qatar aims to introduce an autonomous electric shuttle by 2022. The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) in collaboration with Volkswagen is preparing to deliver the first autonomous public transport in time for the next FIFA Club World Cup.

Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, AID-Autonomous Intelligent Driving, Scania, and MOIA have important roles to play in the project. All the mobility players will contribute to creating a holistic ecosystem for autonomous driving. This will include the development of a systematic legal framework and intelligent infrastructure. Advertisement

QIA and Volkwagen will work together to develop the essential physical and digital infrastructure. This will help integrate the new network of autonomous vehicles to the existing public transport network. 

Volkswagen’s Buzz AD will drive up to four passengers in the Westbay area on a semi-fixed route. Whereas Scania’s high-tech buses will transport a larger group of commuters. App software developed by Volkswagen units AID and MOIA will help operate the service. In future, the project is intended to be used as a blueprint to transform urban mobility in Qatar and around the world.  

San Jose – New Self-driving Taxi Service 

German-based giants Mercedes-Benz and Bosch are bringing a new self-driving taxi service to San Jose, California. The companies will use autonomous S-class vehicles to shuttle passengers between West San Jose and the city’s downtown area, as per reports. 

Passengers will have access to an app developed by Daimler Mobility AG to book their journey around the city. Once a ride is confirmed, the passenger will be prompted to a defined pick-up location to begin their journey. As per the companies, their S-class cabs will run on a fixed route between San Carlos and Stevens Creek Boulevard freeways. 

A safety driver will be seated on a front seat to monitor the driving. This is evidently one of the most important aspects of this new pilot program. Once the pilot is successful, the giants expect to use the data to develop a fully automated vehicle. This will perhaps not need a safety driver as such.  

In the past, Mercedes-Benz and its parent company Daimler have worked on self-driving projects. These vary from futuristic concepts to more practical endeavours. But a pilot like this is the first attempt of both the companies to offer something matching a taxi service.

London – Maiden Driverless Journeys 

The UK government has launched driverless car trials for the first time in London. Although the trials are not meant for the general public, volunteers are allowed to take test drives upon selection. The test will take place on two routes in London. In the current trial, the autonomous cars will have a human driver to take control immediately in case something goes wrong.

The focus has been kept on how the vehicles serve with autonomous technology. With these trials, the government will be able to find out how passengers respond to commuting in a driverless car. The UK government-backed trials are being run through a consortium called ‘StreetWise.’ It comprises Direct Line Group, one of the UK’s largest car insurance providers and TRL, an independent organisation involved in transport innovation.  

But the trials are mainly spearheaded by a British start-up FiveAI that is providing the software that controls the AVs. FiveAI has developed the software and tested its capabilities on complex UK roads. Fully autonomous services have the potential to offer a safer, greener, more seamless commutation experience in cities. In fact, it is a far better alternative to conventional cars in terms of affordability, as per the startup. 

FiveAI is working with partners to make self-driving service a reality across the European continent.

New York-New Jersey Autonomous Bus Testing 

The Lincoln Tunnel between New York and New Jersey has a lane solely dedicated to buses and is the busiest highway lane in the US. The route carries approximately 1850 buses during the peak morning hours between 6 am and 10 am every weekday. Hence, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey agency is intending to increase the capacity of the nation’s busiest bus lane by deploying self-driving vehicles.

According to the Port Authority, the technology could enable 200 self-driving buses to run each morning on this 2.5-mile lane. This will serve an additional 10,000 more commuters a ride to the Midtown terminal. The agency officials believe that autonomous technology could improve the capacity by 30% by allowing the buses to travel closer together

Furthermore, the Port Authority of both cities revealed that they will invest over $5 million for the testing. The trials will be performed through a pilot program that will work throughout May 2021. The test will not involve any passengers on the buses. Besides, the bus companies that travel through the Lincoln tunnel must accept the self-driving technology on their vehicles. Two vendors namely the Southwest Research Institute and Robotic Research LLC have been selected by the Port Authority for the test. 

The Safety Concern 

While some people take autonomous vehicles optimistically, others are still concerned about safety. A recent survey ‘Examining Auto’s Future’ from Deloitte shows that about 48% of US consumers feel that driverless cars are unsafe. Citizens of most other countries have a similar perception.

The safety perception extends to the commercial autonomous vehicles as well. Over 68% of consumers revealed they were concerned about commercial driverless cars operating on highways. In India (57%) and the US (51%), people are concerned about autonomous vehicle testing in areas where they live. 

At the same time, The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is working on developing a standard for safety considerations in AV decision-making. According to IEEE, regulators and industry are striving to agree on a system for assessing the safety of AVs. Most people admit that it is crucial to have safety standards established for permitting driver’s licences to AVs.

IEEE 2846 is the new standard that aims to establish a formal rules-based mathematical model for AV decision-making. This will enable formally verifying, and adjusting the technology for regional customisation by local governments.  

Meanwhile, to diminish the fear of travelling in AVs, it’s vital that people are made aware of the benefits of driverless vehicles. The solution comes from a recent study called ‘Being Driven’ that found out that emotional attachment to personal vehicles and safety concern are the biggest barriers of people not willing to travel in AVs. But with proper safety regulations, technology assessments and awareness about the AVs, we are optimistic that AVs will have a good impact in the coming years.