The push to develop autonomous cars is increasingly taking on a global hue as activist governments around the world take a hand in making more space for self-driving vehicles.
For example, the Japanese government now aims to have self-driving vehicles provide transport to its rapidly expanding population of senior citizens and others with limited vehicle access by 2020 and is deliberately encouraging development of the self-driving technology to address growing social challenges, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.
Meanwhile, Dubai has cut a deal for autonomous vehicles with Tesla. The country’s transportation authority announced a deal to buy 200 Tesla Model S sedans and Model X SUVs for the city’s huge taxi and limousine fleet, which now number numbers more than 10,000 vehicles.
The move is part of a broader effort by city officials to make 25% of all local car trips autonomous by 2030, according to The National, a United Arab Emirates-owned newspaper. The Dubai Future Foundation, a city government initiative, started promoting the autonomous-taxi program earlier this year.
In Japan, a government council on investments for the future, chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is reviewing a proposal that would set 2020 as the target for commercializing automated-driving technology as part of a push to improve access to transportation and boost efficiency in the logistics sector.
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Later this year, driverless cars and buses will be brought to more than 10 areas across Japan – near highway rest stations – to take the elderly and other residents to stores and hospitals. The current plan would have the trials supervised remotely.
The shutdown of public transportation in a number of depopulated areas, coupled with the reluctance of many seniors to drive on their own, has left an estimated 7 million Japanese residents with limited transportation access, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.
In addition, the Shin-Tomei Expressway, which runs part of the way between Tokyo and Nagoya, will be equipped to allow largely autonomous truck convoys. Several driverless vehicles follow a human-driven truck to which they are wirelessly linked.
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This could include creating dedicated lanes in certain areas. The technology will be tested with drivers present in all vehicles starting next January, and with only a lead driver beginning a year later.
The council will also release plans for a legal framework to help put self-driving vehicles on the road. Steps including revisions to the Road Traffic Act are thought to be necessary. Safety measures – such as protocols for what to do if trucks in a convoy lose their connection to the lead vehicle – and licensing procedures are to be discussed with entities including the National Police Agency and the infrastructure ministry.
In the U.S., the State of Michigan in December passed a law allowing autonomous vehicles to be tested on public roadways. Several other states have similar in place or are considering such legislation. Additionally, Japan aims to encourage similar experimentation.
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Efforts are underway to alter United Nations policies requiring that a driver be able to take physical control of a vehicle in an emergency. Some critics see the rule as out of step with developments in automated-driving.