You will find the Dutch version 'De beloopbare stad' of my newest post in the series cities of the future below. The English version will be published at SmartCityHub next month.
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<strong>Since mid-2022, Cruise and Waymo have been allowed to offer a ride-hailing service without a safety driver in a quiet part of San Francisco from 11pm to 6am. The permit has now been extended to the entire city throughout the day. The company has 400 cars and Waymo 250. So far, it has not been an unqualified success.</strong>
A turbulent start
In a hilarious incident, an empty taxi was pulled over by police; it stopped properly, but kept going after a few seconds, leaving the officers wondering if they should give chase. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating this incident, as well as several others involving Cruise taxis stalling at intersections, and the Fire Department reports 60 incidents involving autonomous taxis.
Pending further investigation, both companies are only allowed to operate half of their fleet. In addition to the fire department and public transport companies, trade unions are also opposed to the growth of autonomous taxis. California's governor has rejected the objections, fearing that BigTech will swap the state for more car-friendly ones. It is expected that autonomous taxis will gradually enter all major US cities, at a rate just below that of Uber and Lyft.
Cruise has already hooked another big fish: In the not-too-distant future, the company will be allowed to operate autonomous taxis in parts of Dubai.
The number of autonomous taxi services in the world can still be counted on one hand. Baidu has been offering ride-hailing services in Wuhan since December 2022, and robot taxis have been operating in parts of Shenzen since then.
Singapore was the first city in the world to have several autonomous taxis operating on a very small scale. These were developed by nuTonomy, an MIT spin-off, but the service is still in an experimental phase. Another company, Mobileye, also plans to start operating in Singapore this year.
The same company announced in 2022 that it would launch a service in Germany in 2023 in partnership with car rental company Sixt 6, but nothing more has been heard. A survey by JD Power found that almost two-thirds of Germans do not trust 'self-driving cars'. But that opinion could change quickly if safety is proven and the benefits become clear.
What is it like to drive a robotaxi?
Currently, the group of robotaxi users is still small, mainly because the range is limited in space and time. The first customers are early adopters who want to experience the ride.
<strong>Curious readers: Here you can drive a Tesla equipped with the new beta 1.4 self-driving system, and here you can board a robotaxi in Shenzhen.</strong>
The robotaxis work by hailing: You use an app to say where you are and where you want to go, and the computer makes sure the nearest taxi picks you up. Meanwhile, you can adjust the temperature in the car and tune in to your favourite radio station.
Inside the car, passengers will find tablets with information about the journey. They remind passengers to close all doors and fasten their seatbelts. Passengers can communicate with remote support staff at the touch of a button. TV cameras allow passengers to watch. Passengers can end the journey at any time by pressing a button. If a passenger forgets to close the door, the vehicle will do it for them.
The price of a ride in a robotaxi is just below the price of a ride with Uber or Lyft. The price level is strongly influenced by the current high purchase price of a robotaxi, which is about $175,000 more than a regular taxi. Research shows that people are willing to give up their own cars if robotaxis are available on demand and the rides cost significantly less than a regular taxi. But then the road is open for a huge increase in car journeys, CO2 emissions and the cannibalisation of public transport, which I previously called the horror scenario.
In some cities, such as Detroit, Austin, Stockholm, Tallinn and Berlin, as well as Amsterdam and Rotterdam, minibuses operate without a driver, but usually with a safety officer on board. They are small vehicles with a maximum speed of 25 km/h, which operate in the traffic lane or on traffic-calmed streets and follow a fixed route. They are usually part of pilot projects exploring the possibilities of this mode of transport as a means of pre- and post-transport.
Recently, I published a new e-book with 25 advices for improving the quality of our living environment. Follow the link below to download it for free.
The Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) is one of the European Commission’s largest city support initiatives supporting European cities in their green and digital transitions. ICC delivers knowledge and support services to cities and their local economies to address two major challenges: making the transition to a net-zero economic model, while enabling social inclusion and sustainable development for every EU citizen.
Cities learn how to address these challenges through Local Green Deals: integrated, multi-disciplinary action plans to lead the green and digital transition across sectors from the built environment, urban mobility and renewable energy systems to tourism or small retailers. Cities become members of a vibrant network, gain access to advisory services, innovation and sustainability management techniques, cutting-edge technology and training and get inspiration and advice from peers and mentor cities.
Building on the success of the previous edition of the ICC programme (2020-22) and Digital Cities Challenge (2017-19), the ICC will now enter Phase 2!
Amsterdam as a Mentor City
Like previous years, Amsterdam has been selected to join the support programme as a mentor city. The city will play a leading support role by guiding the 64 core cities as they embark on their two year journey to create impactful strategies and develop innovative solutions that will place the cities at the forefront of the green and digital twin transition through Local Green Deals. A nice compliment, allowing the Amsterdam Region to share their experiences and learnings from setting up Local Green Deal initiatives over the past years.
The Intelligent Cities Challenge Strategy City Lab: Accelerating the Twin Transition (November 2023)
On 23 and 24 November 2023, over 200 people - a mix of Intelligent Cities Challenge (ICC) core and mentor cities, political leaders and representatives from European institutions gathered for the first time in-person to discuss the status quo of Twin Transition. Through examples and best practices, attendees had the honour to hear from over 30 speakers as they shared insights into collaboration methods, Local Green Deals, climate ambitions, digital transitions and more across the course of 20 sessions.
Amsterdam Smart CIty's Leonie van den Beuken travelled to this gathering in Brussels as one of the representatives of the Amsterdam Region. She summarized her trip as follows:
This EU program helps cities from north to south, east and west to connect, share and learn. A much needed interaction, as we all try to improve the quality of life of our citizens. We all struggle with the ever rising cost of living. And we all want to get our cities to become more sustainable.
None of this comes easy, but we all know that local collaboration plays a key role. Building local coalitions between government, businesses and citizens is one thing, but how do we make sure these so called coalitions of the willing actually become coalitions of the doing?
Some of the learnings we shared from the Amsterdam Region are; the need for political support and the importance of trust and respect.
Local political leadership will inspire and guide society and entrepreneurs to invest and contribute. However, make sure pilotical support doesn’t evolve into political ownership. When that happens, societal parties and businesses tend to step out the coalition.
Take the importance of trust and respect seriously. You need to show long term commitment, take time to create understanding between parties. Take competition between participating SME’s serious and define together how to handle this together. Create a workflow in which smaller parties are allowed to participate less intense but sill feel incorporated.
We'll keep you up to date on our participation in future gatherings and results from ICC Phase 2. Want to know more? Check https://www.intelligentcitieschallenge.eu/
At this time, every car manufacturer plus hundreds of startups are working on developing artificial intelligence for driving automation. This should enable communication with the car’s passengers, sensing and anticipating the behavior of other vehicles and road users, communicating with the cloud and planning a safe and fast journey. I will write later about the investments made to achieve this goal.
The development of car automation became visible when Google was the first to start a project in 2009. The activities that technology companies and the automotive industry carry out start from two different visions of the desired result.
Maintain the existing traffic system
The first view assumes that automation is a gradual process that will result in drivers ability to transfer control of the vehicle in a safe manner. It is provisionally assumed that a driver will always be present. That is why taking over control is no problem under specific conditions, such as bad weather and crowded streets. Tesla, an outspoken supporter of this vision, has therefore been talking about its autopilot for years. This came under heavy criticism because the number of functions that were automated was limited. Partly because of this, the so-called autopilot could only be used on a limited number of roads and under favorable conditions.
Most established automotive manufacturers primarily have in mind the higher segment of automobiles and announce they will only make relatively cheaper models suitable for this purpose at a later stage. Maintaining the current traffic system is paramount. The car industry wants to avoid at all costs that people will eventually stop buying cars and limit themselves to ride-hailing in autonomous vehicles.
Moving towards another traffic system
The latter is exactly the intention of the companies that adhere to the second vision. These primarily include non-traditional automotive companies, with Google (later Alphabet) in the lead. What they had in mind from the start was to achieve SAE level 4 and, in the long term, SAE 5 level, cars that can drive safely on the road without the presence of a driver. Companies belonging to this group advocate a completely new transport system. In their opinion, safe driving at SAE level 3 is impossible if the driver is not constantly paying attention. They believe that in the event of a 'disengagement signal', taking control of the car takes too much time and will result in dangerous situations. In addition to Google, Uber (in collaboration with Volvo) also belonged to this group, but now appears to have dropped out. This also applies to Ford and Volkswagen. General Motors is betting on two horses and aims to maintain accreditation at SAE level 4 with its subsidiary Cruise, although Alphabet's subsidiary Waymo has by far the best cards.
Important message for the readers
From next year on, the frequency of my articles about the quality of our living environment will decrease. I admit to an old love: Music. In my new website (in Dutch) I write about why we love music, richly provided with examples. Maybe you will like it. Follow the link below to have a look.