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The future of driverless cars in Europe

Hear from Hitachi Europe's R&D Manager Massimiliano Lenardi on what the future holds for driverless cars

Learning to drive can sometimes be a long and tiresome process, but it is a vital skill for hundreds of millions of people around the world, for now….

Driverless technology has been advancing at lightning speed and BI Intelligence (*) predicts there will be 10 million driverless cars on the road by 2020.

To help understand the technology further and see what the future holds, we sat down with Massimiliano Lenardi, Innovation Manager of the “Automotive and Industry Lab” at Hitachi Europe.

1. Are governments and law enforcement ready for self-driving cars?

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. Law makers also need to take into account IT security issues, as well as the transition phase in which non-automated and fully automated vehicles will be circulating. The UK is currently leading the world with the British Government planning to adapt its laws by the summer of 2017 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.

2. What changes do cities need to make to integrate self-driving car technology into their transportation network?

By 2020 it’s expected there’ll be over around 25 billion connected devices globally, with the Internet of Things making a huge impact also on road transport networks. Vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication will allow self-driving cars to exploit real time data and connect to transport related infrastructure such as traffic lights and public transport timetables, making travel for city residents much more enjoyable and seamless. Also, it’s looking likely that most of future driverless cars will be Fully Electric Vehicles (FEVs), so cities need to increase investment in charging infrastructure to support the increasing share of automated and non-automated electric vehicles.

3. What does the growth of driverless car technology mean for the future of car ownership?

For many more years, in my opinion, some people will still want to own a vehicle and enjoy driving as a hobby, and in some situations those drivers will want to “push the button” and relax while reaching destinations. However, the number of car users rather than owners is set to increase a lot, which might mean that fleet owners, fleets of driverless vehicles, will become the major customer of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in developed countries. However, in the case of emerging countries, the majority of vehicles  will still follow the classical ownership scheme and grow more than driverless fleets.

4. Data collection has many benefits and can further improve self-driving cars’ features and functions, but only if it's shared across the industry. How do you think data sharing can be encouraged?

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. These days, a lot of data is generated by vehicles every hour and collected during check-ups, but a barrier appears when dealers/repair shops do not then share data with the manufacturers and their suppliers. There is therefore a position for technology companies like Hitachi which can propose itself as not only component suppliers of vehicle manufacturers, but also as value-added IT provider of services to gather and analyse information from vehicles to OEMs and Suppliers.

5. How does the technology deal with situations that would currently involve decisions based on individual politeness, for example, stopping to allow pedestrians to cross a road or allowing other drivers out of a junction?

Robots in general follow precise policies implemented as strict rules to be applied. But, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning techniques allow “teaching” special situations to robots and making flexible their behaviour. AI will therefore “humanize or naturalize” autonomous vehicles’ actions and manoeuvrings.

6. What will transportation in Europe look like 20 years from now?

I believe the penetration rate of fully driverless vehicles in Europe will be more than 25% in 2035. There will still be a lot of manually driven cars, with a lot of automated new features / functions, but not completely autonomous. Alongside this I see a lot more interaction between different transport modes, with rail still playing a big role between cities, and we may even need less public road transport (buses, trams, etc.) because services like RoboTaxi  will have taken over!

7. When do you expect the first driverless cars to go on sale in Europe?

My opinion differs to that of BI Intelligence’s, as I believe fully “autonomous and cooperative” vehicles for cities will not appear on sale to the general public before 2025. I believe in Europe the first fully driverless vehicles will probably be trucks operating on highways between big cities’ peripheral hubs and these may even appear on the market before 2025. Concerning vehicles in general, obviously highly-automated ones (so not fully autonomous) will be there very soon, even in 2020, and more and more functions will become widely available during next decade.