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Scotland Could Become a Major Hub for Driverless Trials

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【Summary】In preparation for autonomous cars, some countries are taking proactive measures to become a major hub for testing and deployment.

Original Michael Cheng    May 04, 2018 1:50 PM PT
Scotland Could Become a Major Hub for Driverless Trials
author: Michael Cheng   

In preparation for autonomous cars, some countries are taking proactive measures to become a major hub for testing and deployment. Such measures typically consist of lax regulations, in order to ease barrier-to-entry restrictions for automotive companies in the sector, as well as the funding of smart infrastructure programs for roads and cities.

In Europe, Scotland has shown great interest in driverless technology. Furthermore, local politicians have been very vocal about the potential (positive) impact of autonomous vehicles on the future of the country and in meeting its carbon emission goals.

Pledging an Island for Autonomous Testing

A handful of tech-savvy, Scotland-based officials believe parts of the country would be perfect for testing driverless vehicles and other automated technologies. Scotland consists of more than 790 remote islands. One of these locations would be viable enough to serve as a major hub for developers or researchers of autonomous platforms.

From a cost perspective, small islands require less infrastructural overhauls to support connected and self-driving vehicles. The networks that underpin the technology would not have to be that large. Moreover, with less congestion on the island, self-driving prototypes do not have to compete for space on public roads.

According to Danny Paez from Inverse, Scottish islands with low population counts, such as Gigha and Bute (with an average population of 6,500 residents), are ideal locations for hosting driverless trials. Although the islands are remote, reliable infrastructure exists around the area for accessibility to testing sites.

"Somebody at some point should make a moonshot statement, at [the] senior government level, that says we're going to take a city or an island and make it self-driving," explained Ivan McKee, a member of the Scottish Parliament.

"Once you've made that statement, it then allows you to start bringing in investment, worldwide, and people who want to be part of it. … If any island came forward and said, ‘We want to do this,' they'd become world famous. It would become a tourist thing, like a [themed] island."

Testing on the island may include a wide range of autonomous technologies, such as AI-powered drones, self-driving ships and flying cars.

Highways for Autonomous Vehicles

Scotland is slowly preparing for the rise of self-driving cars. Transport Minister Humza Yousaf previously revealed interest in upgrading existing highways to cater to autonomous vehicles. One of these upgrades include the possibility of creating dedicated lanes for driverless trucks and freight carriers. Yousaf wants such structures to ignite the local economy, resulting in increased productivity.

In a speech addressing the Scottish Parliament, Yousaf highlighted the benefits of self-driving vehicles. He stated that the cutting-edge technology can help bring new jobs into the country and boost business revenue.

The Scottish Transport Minister also views autonomous mobility services and electric vehicles to be advantageous in the phase out of gas-powered cars by 2032 – a goal set by local officials. This is eight years ahead of the UK's phase out date of 2040. For electric vehicles, Scotland is currently prioritizing infrastructure programs related to boosting access to charging stations. 

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