Artificial Intelligence

These countries are leading the race for autonomous cars

A Toyota Fine-Comfort Ride self-driving concept car is seen on display at the New York Auto Show in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The Netherlands is currently winning the race. Image: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Haden Kirkpatrick
Head of Marketing Strategy and Innovation, Esurance
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A new study from KPMG International ranks the Netherlands as the country most ready to support driverless cars, followed by Singapore and the United States. China ranks 16th.

The study notes four factors that the most prepared countries have in common:

1. Government support and oversight

2. Excellent highway infrastructure

3. Large-scale innovation

4. General consumer acceptance

There are several reasons why the Netherlands ranks first on “readiness.” Its roadway infrastructure is unmatched, with ubiquitous top-tier wireless networks and the highest density of electric vehicle charging stations anywhere. As for government support, last year the Dutch government passed a bill which allows large-scale testing of autonomous vehicles without a driver on board.

Image: KPMG

The Netherlands also took the helm on the Declaration of Amsterdam, pushing for collaboration among European countries to support the deployment of driverless cars across borders. The main idea behind their initiative is to prevent red tape from slowing progress.

Ranking two and three, respectively, are Singapore and the United States. Singapore has top-notch legislative engagement and consumer acceptance, yet it is weaker on innovation in this sector. The U.S., on the other hand, leads the world in innovation but falls behind on the infrastructure required to adopt driverless cars on a mass scale.

Additionally, a recent report from Esurance, where I work, found that only 17 percent of the 1,000 Americans surveyed felt they were ready to give up their cars in favor of autonomous vehicles. Clearly, some cultural adjustment still needs to happen, too.

The key takeaway from KPMG’s study is the need for the private and public sectors to join forces. Getting all stakeholders on the same page helps foster innovation and ensure that deployment is on par with public policy. Innovation is hugely important, but it means little without good roads and a quality mobile network.

A joint effort between public officials and automakers can help standardize self-driving technologies. After all, self-driving cars rely on communication, and good communication relies on a standard language. Cars will need to share high-octane data about speed, braking, and road obstructions ahead. Through this data exchange, they’ll get a real-time picture of the world around them and be able to navigate it.

Cars won’t only “talk” amongst themselves, either. They’ll need to communicate with traffic lights, traffic signs, medians, and the road itself. One factor that makes the Netherlands a strong contender in the self-driving race is its plan to update over a thousand traffic lights so they can communicate with autonomous vehicles.

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Additionally, while China ranks 16th on the list, last year Tsinghua University and Changan Auto partnered with General Motors to lay the groundwork for vehicle-to-everything (V2X) sensors. Their goal was to create a standard design that would enable different automakers to advance their communication systems more efficiently.

Exactly how much self-driving cars will change society remains to be seen. At the turn of the century, automobiles spurred the need for better roads, insurance policies, seat belts, smog test requirements and air bags. Highways were soon constructed, leading to suburban developments on city outskirts. It transformed not only transportation, but the ways in which citizens lived their lives. We’re likely to see a similar revolution with the driverless car.

But before it can happen, the car insurance industry will need an overhaul. Tax revenue collected from fossil fuels might be redirected to pay-as-you-go road pricing, as Singapore does. Data privacy and cybersecurity will need to be prioritized. Urban planners might soon rethink their best practices. It’s the countries working to achieve these ends today who’ll fare well in the self-driving world of tomorrow.

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