Americans’ enthusiasm for cars is now rivaled by their eagerness to automate them. Europeans are plugging away on new pilot projects, but the US has raced ahead with more self-driving pilots than any other country.
Sven Beiker, a former BMW engineer who now runs the consulting firm Silicon Valley Mobility, analyzed data on autonomous vehicle pilots around the world. There are 24 pilots in the US and 50 others from Europe to Australia, according to data from the Aspen Institute and Bloomberg Philanthropies. “We’ll see many more pilots next year and get from pilots to actual products and services,” said Beiker.
The primary expected role for autonomous vehicles (AVs) is “last mile” transportation connecting the edge of transit systems with final destinations, according to Bloomberg Philanthropies. Other big uses are expected for taxis, mass transit, freight, paratransit, and local deliveries.
In the US, Alphabet’s Waymo is testing AVs for private use, signing up 500 families as “early riders” in the Phoenix suburb of Chandler, Arizona. In the Netherlands, the city of Eindhoven is testing a handful of shared, autonomous electric cars that BMW is designing to last almost 1 million miles. They are intended to be the foundation for a future car-share subscription service.
While no individual European country has as many pilots as the US (the continent as a whole is nearly on par), many nations will be catching up soon, says Beiker. China has committed to making 10% of all vehicles fully autonomous by 2030 and Japan’s preparations for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo ensure it will be a showcase of the technology.