Ústí to be first Czech city with driverless cars

The city and region hope to be a hub for smart car technology development

The city of Ústí nad Labem plans to test driverless vehicles. It would be the first city in the Czech Republic to do so. The plan, which is in its early stages, came out of talks between Czech Transportation Minister Dan Ťok (ANO) and Ústí Mayor Věra Nechybová (ANO). Future talks are planned with representatives of auto makers.

“It would be a unique pilot project in the Czech Republic. We can already get inspiration and experience from Switzerland, where in Sion two minibuses were tested,” Mayor Nechybová said, according to daily Hospodářské noviny (HN). The Swiss test was launched in June 2016 with two electric minibuses with 11 seats each that use GPS and object recognition software to navigate. They were first tested on private land for several months before being put on public roads. The actions of the bus were monitored remotely, and it traveled at a maximum of 20 km per hour.

Minister Ťok said it is important that the Czech Republic doesn't get caught sleeping but instead takes initiative while new developments are going on, and that is the reason the ministry supports the development of intelligent transport infrastructure and testing of autonomous vehicle. The ministry previously supported the idea of a test track for driverless cars.

Ústí nad Labem region Governor Oldřich Bubeníček said the project is in line with ambitions to create a “smart region” and to attract top companies and experts.

The Ústí region has already been active in developing driverless cars. The French company Valeo, which has divisions in the Czech Republic, cooperated with the region's Innovation Center to help develop software and hardware so driverless cars can see and recognize objects, and react to them. The project involved some 200 people, mostly students, and more development work is expected to take place in the future.

Czech businessman Martin Hausenblas, who is behind the taxi firm Liftago, is a promoter of smart cars and helped to initiate the negotiations for their testing in the Ústí nad Labem region. He told HN that the goal was to create conditions such that companies like high-tech carmaker Tesla would want to build a factory in the region.

He also hopes the region will be successful in changing road laws to permit driverless vehicles to fit into normal use. He would like to see driverless school buses eventually taking children to school, but so far this is just a dream.

Smart cars have had mixed records on the road. One of the two buses in Sion, Switzerland, hit a parked car in September 2016, causing the project to be suspended while the incident was investigated. Nobody was hurt, but there was some minor property damage.

A driverless car operated by Google in the US hit a bus in February 2016 and sustained some damage. The Google car was at fault since the bus had the right of way during a lane change. There were other accidents with Google self-driving cars, but this was the first where the driverless car was at fault.

The worst accident was when a Tesla car on autopilot crashed into a white tractor trailer, resulting in the death of the person in the Tesla car. The car's sensors likely did not distinguish the white trailer from the bright sky.

Tesla said in a statement at the time that Tesla cars on autopilot had gone more than 130 million miles without a fatal accident, while the average for human-driven cars in the US is a fatality every 94 million miles and worldwide it is every 60 million miles.

Promoters of driverless cars say they would save 300,000 lives per decade in the US alone.

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