Understanding the European Market for Self-Driving Cars

Movimento Blog

In many ways, the European Union (EU) modeled itself after the United States. In the US, you can drive from Maine to New Mexico without having to show a passport or stop for any reason (other than to rest). That has long been one of the EU’s goals – smooth, uninterrupted passage from one end of the union to the other.

It seems like an ideal setup for self-driving cars, whose passengers will not even have to stop for rest as they roll from Spain to the border of the Balkans. This leaves automakers around the world eager to take part in the European market. But there are serious regulatory obstacles to overcome before the roads are as open as the borders, obstacles which could be further hampered by the political difficulty surrounding Brexit. However, analysts remain optimistic that Europe and self-driving cars will continue to move forward. While progress toward autonomous vehicles might come in fits and starts, it will be aided by a technology almost as revolutionary as the Union itself – Over-The-Air (OTA) software updates.

The Obstacles to a Driverless European Union

In the wake of World War II, the EU’s ultimate goal was to end the centuries of war that had destroyed the continent. From its beginnings as the European Coal and Steel Community, the EU grew with members finally adopting a single currency in 1998. 19 of its current 28 members use the Euro, making the EU the largest economic body in the world.

One of the outcomes of this ever-closer union, however, has been a tight regulatory framework. After all, if one country is able to pay workers essentially nothing, or avoid environmental rules, a massive imbalance comes into play. For better or for worse, this has created a sprawling bureaucracy, with regulations on everything from GMOs to the curvature of bananas.

This situation has proven troublesome for self-driving cars. While there have been successful experiments with commercial shipping, the nest of obstacles against a continent-wide system is proving very hard to untangle. The EU cannot just dictate rules, it has to negotiate with every member state. Think of how tricky it is to balance state, local and federal regulations in the US, and multiply that difficulty several times.

Just consider these individual regulations. Right now, there is an EU-UK regulation which states that ‘Whenever the Automatically Commanded Steering function becomes operational, this shall be indicated to the driver, and the control action shall be automatically disabled if the vehicle speed exceeds the set limit of 10 km/h by more than 20 percent….’ Now, the law was probably created to address emergency situations, but as written, no car using automatic steering can go above 10 km/h, or 6 m/h. Needless to say, this is an issue. Some countries have faster Internet speeds than others, the EU is just trying to enforce a bare minimum. Many of those countries, like the Netherlands and Germany, are actively working to help connected cars function in their cities. But if you are trying to drive across the continent, your car simply will not work in suburban areas or countries that do not have high connectivity.

None of this is to say that the EU is deliberately throwing up roadblocks. In fact, it is actively encouraging automakers to develop autonomous vehicles. It just wants to make sure that the technology is safe and consistent across the continent, which means that the process is long and even frustrating. But it will happen. As it does, OEMs have to be flexible and ready to adapt to change.

OTA Technology and the European Union

Pittsburgh is testing self-driving Uber fleets. Singapore is working on autonomous taxis. The EU knows it has to keep up. As Ismail Ertug, a member of the European Parliament from the Socialists and Democrats group, summed it up, “In order to . . . stay competitive vis à vis other regions around the world, the European Commission will have to swiftly respond.”

Uber plans to buy about 24,000 Volvo SUVs to form their fleet of driverless cars and Volvo executives already expect to be able to meet proposed self-driving safety standards by 2020, with add-ons to existing models that could include hazard detection and better road detection. It is these add-ons that actually matter the most. Due to country-based economic restraints, there will be some hiccups in the EU adoption. This means that cars must be able to adjust to changing connectivity standards as countries slowly improve their technology. The automotive industry will need to adapt to piecemeal standards even as they put their cars on the road. This means adopting reliable OTA software updating systems that will enable existing and future cars to be modified to meet new regulatory (and technological) standards.

The EU will continue to evolve, surely weathering the challenges it now faces. Its evolution and its ability to protect the people who call it home can be mirrored by self-driving cars, which will continue to grow toward a safer future.

As the auto industry is changed by technological and economic currents, OEMs and Tier-1 manufacturers will need to partner with technological specialists to thrive in the era of the software defined car. Movimento’s expertise is rooted in our background as an automotive company. This has allowed us to create the technological platform that underpins the future of the software driven and self-driven car. Connect with us today to learn more about how we can work together.

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