Self-driving cars to be tested in the Netherlands

A forthcoming proposal looks to make the Netherlands a forerunner in automated driving technology by supporting large scale tests on public roads beginning as early as 2015.

A group of Dutch organisations that include the TU-Delft led Dutch Automated Vehicle Initiative (DAVI), research institute TNO, the Port of Rotterdam and Transport & Logistiek Nederland have officially submitted an application to perform the first test.

Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment Schultz van Haegen has been a strong supporter of the trials, advocating that it is important for the Netherlands to be a first-mover in self-driving technologies.

DAVI and the quest for self-driving cars

DAVI, the organisation behind the self-driving initiative, is a public-private partnership that consists of the TU-Delft, TNO, the RWD and outreach organisation Connekt.

The group works together with charter partners in order to advance technologies that will eventually result in widespread use of self-driving vehicles on roads around the world.

They unveiled a prototype of the equipment in November 2013 during the launch of DAVI at the Amsterdam RAI which focused on "cooperative driving" technology.

Central to the technology is a communication device implanted in the car. Via a wireless link, the vehicle can then sense, react and interact with both the environment and other automobiles on the road in a 360 degree radius. Input and feedback from this system of sensors, cameras and radars is then processed by a computer system and used to control speed, steering, merging and braking.

Riding in "train carriages" where the car drives a short distance from the vehicle in front of it, is one of the keys to automated operation. From this position, the sensors detect and react accordingly based on speed, spacing and other elements in the immediate environment.

The focus of the communication system on other vehicles and surroundings instead of just on the vehicle itself, says DAVI, is essential to the success of the project.

With consideration to cost and practicality, the technology has been developed with the capability of being installed in existing, road-ready vehicles. Of course, drivers can still take over from the automated system and manually operate the vehicle when needed.

Benefits of automated driving

The research team behind DAVI asserts that self-driving technology can provide numerous social and environmental benefits when used on a large scale.

One of the major advantages of automated vehicles relates to fuel consumption. DAVI estimates that automated driving can improve energy efficiency by nearly 20 per cent.

Citing driving techniques used by transport lorries, riding close behind one another in a train formation cuts down on overall fuel consumption.

As automated driving systems will be able to react quicker than their human counterparts, the cars will be able to safely drive in closer proximity, therefore saving on fuel.

Additionally, DAVI states that with wide-scale adoption, vehicles that drive themselves will reduce congestion by as much as 50 per cent through the minimization of human inefficiency in traffic situations.

Building on this, the researchers go on to make the claim that, since 90 per cent of accidents are currently attributed to driver error, there is the potential to drastically improve road safety.

Issues facing self-driving cars

In order for automated driving technologies to enter the market, they must first be successfully tested on public roads in live traffic situations. 

After showcasing the technologies in demos on closed courses, DAVI and TNO believe it's ready for public roads.

After testing the system herself, Minister Schultz van Haegen also thinks so, stating that "the era of self-driving cars is here... not only do I want the Netherlands to be ready, but also [for the Netherlands] to be international leaders in developing this technology."

However, other concerns have been raised that require further consideration including risks related to liability, skill requirements and issues of privacy.

Schultz van Haegen is expected to present an official proposal to the Parliament in early 2015 requesting an adjustment to current laws that would allow for public trials of self-driving cars.

In a sign of optimism, DAVI hopes to begin rolling out the technology to consumers as early as 2020.

Benjamin Garstka


Benjamin Garstka

Raised in Massachusetts. University years in New York City. Graduate school in Utrecht. Amsterdammer by choice. Cultuurliefhebber. Urbanist. Affinity for sarcasm, craft beers, art criticism, stand-up comedy and the Dutch...

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