Autonomous vehicles are safe, sustainable and cost-effective – these are the arguments that technology and automotive companies worldwide are using in their development of vehicles and control systems. So who is leading the pack on the global market? Who is able to offer the first credible systems that will really make driving easier for everyone?
The race to develop the first autonomous vehicles is an exciting one. As early as October 2017, the South Korean government is aiming to open K-City, the world’s largest test site for autonomous vehicles. With this test ground covering over 36 hectares just outside the capital Seoul, Korea is hoping to secure the technology of the future for itself.
Testing companies and governments
Korean corporations Samsung, SK Telecom, Hyundai, Naver and Kia have already expressed their interest in testing out new technologies and systems at the site. The common objective of the companies and the government is to bring to market the first semi-autonomous vehicles made in Korea in just three years’ time. By this point, they plan to have reached stage three of the automation process, extending beyond that of today’s assistance systems. Systems will be in charge of the vehicle, but will signal to the driver in good time when he or she should take back control.
In order to the support the industry, the government designated around 320 kilometers of the country’s roads in November 2016 to allow autonomous vehicles to be tested. In K-City, the Korean corporations will now be able to guide their systems to market maturity. The ground features various types of roads, such as bus lanes, fast lanes and parking zones, in order to simulate and test real driving situations.
The data acquired will then be able to be evaluated, for example by insurance companies or urban planners. South Korea therefore stands a good chance of taking the lead in the global race for the commercialization of autonomous vehicles and their associated technologies.
DB Schenker motorway tests
That said, similar test sites now exist in other countries too. Germany has several digital test sites in cities, which allow sensors, infrastructure units, networking or new standards to be put through their paces. On the A9 between Munich and Nuremberg, there is even a stretch of motorway that is used to conduct research into intelligent systems. This is where DB Schenker and vehicle manufacturer MAN, for example, wish to test out autonomous trucks.
Recently, Germany and France have jointly established an international digital test site, which extends from the city of Merzig in Germany’s Saarland, through Saarbrücken and on to Metz in France. As they know, national standards are often a major obstacle to new technologies.
The situation is similar in the US: take the state of Michigan, for example, where automotive companies such as BMW, Honda, General Motors, Nissan and Toyota as well as suppliers such as Delphi or Denso are making use of the Mcity. Covering just about 12 hectares close to the Motor City of Detroit, the ground has a real infrastructure and state-of-the-art dummies. What’s more, the University of Michigan has declared the town of Ann Arbor as a research project in which 1,500 vehicles are testing out networked infrastructure systems.
And now, the US government has given the green light to a larger-scale, even more ambitious project. Also in Michigan, the American Center for Mobility is to be built across 132 hectares. The first phase of the test site is to be opened by the end of 2017 and, in addition to digital infrastructure facilities, will contain a stretch of motorway and a rail junction.