Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden
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Sweden first explored autonomous vehicle testing in 2015, concluding that it was possible to carry out trials on public roads. As of July 2017, the Road Transportation Authority has the power to authorise permits and supervise such trials.
(ii) Drive Sweden
Drive Sweden is the Swedish government’s vehicle technology partner. Drive Sweden oversees efforts in vehicle, mobility services, and transport system research. Currently, Drive Sweden is participating in several projects involving autonomous vehicles.
One popular example is the Drive Me Project. Last December, Volvo, in partnership with Drive Sweden, launched the Drive Me project, which provided autonomous cars operating in a supervised mode to a number of people in Gothenburg, Sweden. Participants drive a predetermined route and Drive Me collects data on safety, traffic flow, energy efficiency, and overall user experience. Volvo experts will examine this data before introducing autonomous vehicles.
Another example is ROAR, or Robot Based Autonomous Refuse Handling. Through partnerships with organisations and universities in the United States and the Volvo Group, the Project created an autonomous vehicle to collect and empty refuse bins. The robot operates via a drone on the roof of the truck that scans the area and identifies the bins. It also incorporates a number of sensors to keep itself positioned within the predetermined route.
Finally, autonomous buses are being tested on public roads in Stockholm. The purpose of the test is to determine how the buses will perform in road traffic, including among cyclists and pedestrians. The buses can carry up to 11 passengers. The platform includes sensor-equipped bus stops, traffic lights, and road signs that can communicate with the buses and share data with transport agencies.
(i) Current regulations
Currently, autonomous vehicles are not legal on public roads in Denmark. The Danish Road Traffic Act covers “motor-powered vehicles”, bicycles, and pedestrians. However, according to the Act, a “motor-powered vehicle” must be driven by a human being when using public roads. Thus, in order to allow autonomous vehicles to operate on public roads, either the Danish Parliament must amend the Road Traffic Act to include autonomous vehicles as a fourth category, or the Minister for Transport, Building, and Housing would have to consider autonomous vehicles to be a motor-powered vehicle. However, as a caveat, if the Minister were to do so, autonomous vehicles would not be allowed to operate on sidewalks.
Autonomous vehicles may operate on commercial or private property without restrictions. For example, Herlev Hospital, located approximately 13 kilometers from Copenhagen, uses autonomous robots to perform various tasks within the hospital. Should autonomous vehicles cause injury to individuals or property, the liability would not fall under the Road Traffic Act’s provisions on strict liability, but rather, would be determined by Danish tort law. As such, injured persons could advance a claim against the manufacturer of the autonomous vehicle according to product liability law.
While autonomous vehicles are not yet permitted to operate on public roads, on 30 May 2017, the Danish Parliament adopted an amendment to the Danish Road Traffic Act allowing autonomous vehicle testing. Danish law requires that a test project leader obtain a license before conducting a trial. In order to obtain the license, the project leader must show that the test will be conducted with an approved vehicle. Further, the entire project must be assessed by a certified assessor and then approved by the Ministry of Transport.
In order to obtain approval, test projects must have vehicles up to SAW level 4 (high automation). Level 4 refers to autonomous vehicles that can operate without a driver present, but where a driver can take at least remote control. Moreover, approval will only cover specific roads in specific areas within a specified time span. A project license requires the licensee to maintain insurance to cover possible damages, and the licensee will have strict liability for all damages caused by the vehicle. The licensee also will be held responsible under strict liability rules for any criminal offense or violation of the Road Traffic Act.
(iii) Autonom Cab
The technology firm NAVYA plans to introduce autonomous taxis in Copenhagen to combat the often congested roads. The taxis will not have a driver, steering wheel, or pedals, but will be equipped to accommodate six riders. It will utilize six different cameras to navigate roads and read traffic signs. It also will have sensors to determine its surrounding and position, and radars to calculate the speed of surrounding objects. Finally, it will have 4G technology to allow communication with supervision centers.
Autonomous vehicles are governed by Finland’s Vehicle Act. Currently, Finnish law permits autonomous vehicle testing on public roads so long as the individual or organisation leading the testing acquires a test plate certificate. One can obtain the certificate through The Finnish Transport Safety Agency, or Trafi.
Current tests involve autonomous vehicles that are able to follow a pre-determined route and avoid collisions with obstacles without input from the driver. The vehicles require visible land markings, which can sometimes be a challenge in Finland’s arctic climate.
(ii) Sohjoa project
Autonomous buses are currently being tested throughout Helsinki. Operated on public roads, the bus project is a cooperative effort from several universities with contributions from the Finnish government and European Union. They serve purposes such as shuttling students and employees around university campuses. Routes are predetermined and buses can accommodate up to 12 passengers.
(iii) The Aurora project
The Finnish government has recently allowed autonomous vehicle testing along the E8 Highway, which stretches along the border between Finland and Norway. Interestingly, the 10-kilometer stretch of highway is covered in ice and snow for at least half of the year. The U.S. $8 million (or €5 million) project is a partnership between the Finnish and Norwegian governments (in Norway it is called the Borealis Project and is managed by the Norwegian Public Road Administration).
In order to optimize safety on the dangerous highway, the Finnish government installed sensors along the road to measure weight, vibration, pressure, acceleration, and general surface conditions. The ability to test autonomous vehicles in dangerous conditions has inspired other governments, including Canada, to undergo similar testing.
Last November, the Norwegian Parliament passed the draft law to allow testing of driverless cars in Norway. The law came into force 1 January 2018. Those who want to conduct autonomous vehicle testing must apply for a permit and demonstrate that the vehicle can safely handle various situations that it may encounter on a public road.
Norway is testing autonomous buses in Oslo and Akershus. Passengers may remain within testing zones but can control the routes taken by the buses. They can request buses using a smartphone app, and waiting times typically fall between five and ten minutes. The buses pick up other passengers along the route.
One pilot program, the Trondheim Pilot, uses traffic light technology to control the speed of autonomous vehicles in specific intersections. Approximately 48 signal intersections throughout the country incorporate signal shifts for approaching autonomous vehicles.
The Norwegian government has partnered with the Finnish government to commence the Borealis Project (called the Aurora Project in Finland) (see above).
(iii) Autonomous snowplow
In addition to cars, taxis, and buses, companies such as Yeti Snow Technology are working on other types of autonomous vehicles. One pertinent example is the autonomous snowplow, which was recently tested at a Norwegian airport. Yeti boasts that its autonomous snowplow needs approximately one hour to clear about a 350,000 square meter area of snow.
The snowplow operates in a strictly controlled environment and relies on accurate programming rather than cameras and sensors for safety.