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Is COVID-19 opening roads and accelerating AV acceptance?
The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the automotive industry significantly. OEM’s factories and dealer showrooms have been shut to prevent transmission and almost all R&D activities on autonomous vehicles (AVs) are postponed. There is however a silver lining; as AVs are demonstrating their value by providing solutions to problems posed by the pandemic, but the legal situation worldwide for AVs testing and regulations is not yet defined yet, as illustrated in the graphic below.
Worldwide development in testing and regulation
(Source: PTOLEMUS Autonomous Vehicle Global Study)
China is the AV pioneer while fighting against the virus
Already in early February, self-driving companies, such as Neolix, JD.com, and Meituan, started different AV services to minimize the pandemic’s spread. Deliveries of medical supplies and food to frontline medical staff, and those that were segregated due to infection, helped to minimize the risk of disease transmittance in Beijing and Wuhan. Simultaneously, companies like Venti Technology and Idriveplus started activities to disinfect hospitals and streets with their driverless vehicles.
This supports the fact that China is striving to be an Artificial Intelligent leader for AVs by 2030, stated in our Autonomous Vehicle Technology & Suppliers Global Study, and thanks to the republic’s grey legal situation – which does not distinguish between AVs and delivery robots – the prompt application of driverless delivery vehicles has been exploited by these savvy companies.
Similar trends are about to evolve in other countries
Following the example, the US states of California and Florida gave AV companies like Navya and Nuro approval to test their shuttles, helping to ensure social distancing between medical and delivery staff, while Cruise, Pony.ai and Aptiv started contactless delivery services too.
Furthermore, Starship Technologies extended its robotaxi services in the UK and Yandex stated that the pandemic helped to accelerate the execution of its first commercial contract with the city of Skolkovo, Russia, to deliver mail and small packages autonomously.
Will the current demand boost the implementation of AV regulations?
Even though the road is paved for the technology, its commercial application is still associated with huge expenditures in every country.
Until now, Europe, China, and the US are taking the legislative lead for AVs, as stated in our OEM readiness report. Juxtaposed against the lack of European alignment, this indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic could actually advance US and China progress to the detriment of Europe.
What will be the outcome?
Overall, it is PTOLEMUS’ view that the rising real-world application, especially in such exceptional times brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, where society must accept that the new “normal” we are fast approaching, will require the application of technology in ways that we have not previously witnessed, and the applications for AVs which are now demonstrating a value beyond novelty, will undoubtedly influence legislators’ opinions and accelerate the roll-out of legislation support of autonomous vehicle adoption, worldwide.