The futuristic concept of an autonomous or “self-driving” car has been one of the leading points of interest in the technology sector.
This idea went from fantasy to reality during the 1980s when the first prototypes of these cars were developed. However, autonomous cars were far from being able to be tested in society until 2015, when the United States allowed testing of these vehicles on public roads.
Once the opportunity arose, American companies such as Uber, Tesla, and Google began to invest in the research and development of these cars with the hope to create a product that was safe and fully functional. In 2015 alone, it is estimated that the top 5 companies in this field invested $46 billion.
Development progressed rapidly and within years, self-driving cars were being tested and even sold commercially in the United States. With the product showing promise, major automotive companies decided to join the race. Of them, BMW and Mercedes began to develop their own autonomous vehicles and introduced Europe to the growing industry.
However, this success was not without with major setbacks. In the United States, multiple instances of serious and even fatal car accidents as a result of self-driving cars were reported. These accidents presented a major issue for automotive companies as they were held liable for the malfunction of their prized cars. Lawsuits followed and development of these cars would either be slowed or halted. As a result, the government set safety regulations on the testing and use of autonomous cars while the companies worked on perfecting them.
Development of autonomous vehicles would also be disrupted overseas as European governments would set regulations to avoid similar incidents. However, significant strides have been made in a number of countries.
In Germany, BMW is currently testing a fleet of 40 autonomous cars to be able to function on the autobahn. The UK has also continued to pursue this project and allowed public testing of autonomous cars. On top of this, their government stated it would invest $280 million in necessary infrastructure and research in order to become a leader in this industry. Along with the UK and Germany, France has also showed interest and allowed regulated testing of these cars.
The European Union as a whole has also gotten on board with the idea of autonomous mobility and set aside €440 million for investment. It is unclear how many years it may take for autonomous vehicles to be functional throughout Europe.
However, there is great promise that Europe may be one of the first entities to fully adopt this new innovation. According to Violeta Bulc, the European Commissioner for Transport:
“Autonomous mobility will only really take off to the extent that it is accepted by passengers and citizens as human beings and by society at large.”