Germany gives greenlight to driverless vehicles on public roads

Germany has adopted legislation that will allow driverless vehicles on public roads by 2022, laying out a path for companies to deploy robotaxis and delivery services in the country at scale. While autonomous testing is currently permitted in Germany, this would allow operations of driverless vehicles without a human safety operator behind the wheel.

The bill, which last week passed the Bundestag, Germany’s lower house of parliament, specifically looks at vehicles with Level 4 autonomy. Level 4 autonomy is a designation by the Society of Automobile Engineers (SAE) which means the computer handles all the driving in certain conditions or environments. In Germany, these vehicles will be limited to geographic areas.

“In the future, autonomous vehicles should be able to drive nationwide without a physically present driver in specified operating areas of public road traffic in regular operation,” reads the legislation. “According to the Federal Government, further steps must be taken to introduce corresponding systems into regular operation so that the potential of these technologies can be exploited and society can participate in them.”

The bill still needs to pass through the upper chamber of parliament, or the Bundesrat. Included in the bill are possible initial applications for self-driving cars on German roads, such as public passenger transport, business and supply trips, logistics, company shuttles that handle employee traffic and trips between medical centers and retirement homes.

Companies looking to operate commercial driverless vehicles in Germany will need to adhere to a number of other rules, such as carrying liability insurance and having access to stop autonomous operations remotely.

Companies already testing in Germany might have an upper hand in Europe’s largest economy. Argo AI, for example, has been testing its autonomous vehicles at the LabCampus innovation center at Munich Airport. Last June, the company opened its European headquarters in the Bavarian city, and this summer it will open its test site in partnership with Volkswagen to test the VW ID.Buzz electric vans. Intel-subsidiary Mobileye also has a footprint testing AVs in Germany.

Several U.S. states and countries have regulations around testing and potentially commercial deployment. Last week, Chinese robotaxi startup became the eighth company to be granted a permit to test driverless vehicles in California, and Nuro is the only company with a deployment permit to operate commercially on public roads in the state. In China, companies like Alibaba-backed AutoX are also testing driverless fleets on public roads. Germany’s legislation is a step beyond testing in the direction of integration into regular traffic.

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