Driverless vehicles gain momentum

A nuTonomy self-driving vehicle pictured in Singapore in August 2016 Keystone

Self-driving cars seem poised to be one of the most talked-about trends at this year’s Geneva International Motor Show. The Touring Club Suisse (TCS) motoring association says the boom in these vehicles is just around the corner, with several trials already underway in Switzerland.

This content was published on March 9, 2017

The 87th editionExternal link edition of the 10-day motor show, which opens its doors on Thursday, puts the main car market trends on display. In recent years, it has reflected growing public demand for SUVs and the emergence of electric vehicles. One of this year’s striking trends is the rapid evolution of self-driving transport.

Self-driving vehicle tests are taking place all over the world, and Switzerland has piloted several of its own. The latest, announced Tuesday, involves a Federal Railways trial with two driverless shuttle buses in the city of Zug’s public transport system. Beginning this summer, two vehicles will operate along a stretch between the railway station and a technology centre.

Zug’s driverless buses will be integrated into the local transport network. The test runs from this summer until the end of 2018. Keystone

Yves Gerber, head of communications for the automobile association Touring Club Suisse, spoke to about the path to driverless vehicles in Switzerland. What stage are we at with autonomous vehicles?

Yves Gerber: We’re not far from being fully operational, from a technological point of view. Specialists project that completely self-driving cars could be on the market by 2020. We’re currently expecting a growing sales curve, with a real boom until 2035.

But the buyers won’t necessarily be individuals. The economic models which we expect and already see from pilot projects show that we’re heading towards fleets of car-sharing vehicles. That model will contribute to more such cars in traffic.

The clients of these services will be private citizens, especially in urban environments where many households don’t own a car. People will get from city to city by train, for example, and then hire a self-driving car. But are there still legal obstacles to a truly self-driving car?

Y.G.: The absolute precondition that must be dealt with is that of civil responsibility. For the moment, we adhere to the Vienna Convention on Road TrafficExternal link, which states that “every moving vehicle or combination of vehicles shall have a driver”.

The concept of assistance has just been added to this convention, but only on the condition that the driver can re-take control at any moment.

As long as we remain at that point, we won’t see a completely autonomous car with someone reading a book with their back to the road. But things are moving quickly and the idea of seeing a totally autonomous car by 2020 isn’t crazy.

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