Self-driving cars and other autonomous vehicles may help to cut emissions while improving road safety. Here’s how Norway has become an attractive testbed for autonomous vehicle solutions.
In October 2020, Elon Musk raised a few eyebrows across the auto industry when he tweeted that “Norway was next” for testing Tesla autopilot. But for those who closely follow developments on the autonomous vehicle (AV) scene, the tweet was not surprising.
This is because Norway has ranked third in KPMG’s global Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index (AVRI) for the past three years, behind Singapore and the Netherlands.
“Our great advantage is that rules and regulations are specifically adapted to accommodate autonomous vehicles,” explains Olav Madland, co-founder and CEO of Applied Autonomy, a Norwegian company offering control systems and services for autonomous transportation.
Why is regulatory adaptation so important for the development of autonomous vehicles and traffic systems? Madland explains:
“From a regulatory perspective, the challenge is that autonomous vehicles depend on removing the safety operator – that is the driver – from the vehicle. Vehicle regulations, which define the requirements of vehicles that can drive on our roads, are made on the basis that there is a human holding the wheel at all times. But if you are going to allow autonomous vehicles on the roads, you need to specify the systems, features and properties that have to be present to ensure traffic safety when there is no driver in control.”
“This is no small task. But Norwegian authorities started early, and they have put in the work to devise a framework specifically adapted for autonomous vehicles. This means that there are few hurdles to begin testing autonomous solutions in cities and towns across the country.”
Applied Autonomy has grasped this opportunity with both hands. The company is running several pilot projects with autonomous buses in Norwegian cities, and its customer base now includes urban authorities all over Europe.
Madland believes Norway offers a number of other advantages that make the country an attractive testing ground for autonomous vehicle solutions. “Regulations aside, Norway is simply a very practical place to test your solutions. The geography and the weather here mean that you get a lot of useful data on how you fare under challenging conditions. If Tesla, for example, decides to do testing here, they will get a clear overview of how temperature and elevation variations impact their autonomous performance.”
“It boils down to this: if it works here in Norway, people can trust that it will work anywhere.”
The KPMG Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index scores countries in four categories: policy and legislation, technology and innovation, infrastructure, and consumer acceptance. In addition to regulatory status, the report looks at how advanced a country’s state of electrification in the transport sector is because this contributes to autonomous vehicle readiness. Electrification is included in this measurement because, for the foreseeable future, autonomous road vehicle technology will work best in electric cars and buses.
Norway has long been the world leader in electric vehicle (EV) use by some margin. Thanks to long-standing and ambitious policies and incentives, Norway reached an EV milestone in 2020, where over half of new passenger vehicles sold were electric. Furthermore, Norway is second in the world when it comes to the number of EV charging stations per capita. This is particularly impressive considering Norway’s population is widely dispersed.
Erik Figenbaum, Chief Research Engineer at Norway’s Institute of Transport Economics, explains how a country characterised by mountainous terrain and large distances became world champions in EV use.
“Going as far back as the late 1990s, Norway implemented incentives to encourage the adaptation of electric vehicles – chiefly fee reductions and permission to use the bus lane in the cities,” he says.
“But battery technology was very limited back then, and by 2003 the global EV industry was more or less proclaimed dead. However, the incentives remained and a small group of EV enthusiasts kept the EV scene alive, so to speak. So when the lithium-ion revolution came around in 2010 or thereabouts, driving up the reach and down the costs, Norway was already primed to electrify its transport sector.”
Over the past decade, Norway has ramped up its EV efforts by reducing fees associated with EV ownership and increasing the cost of using fossil fuels for transportation. Norway is also home to a burgeoning battery industry.
The KPMG report also draws attention to Norway’s highly competent and innovative transportation technology sector, pointing out that Norway “has a leading position in autonomous boats”. This is due in good part to Norway’s highly advanced offshore and maritime industries, in which Norwegian companies have been both early adaptors and early developers of autonomous equipment and vessels at sea.
Norway is also pioneering the development of autonomous, electric passenger ferries, which may represent a huge stride in green urban transport.
The fact that electric vehicles and autonomous vehicle technology are widespread in Norway may be the reason why the country also scores high on the last measure of autonomous vehicle readiness: user acceptance.
“[Norwegians] are not sceptical about using autonomous buses. They think it’s normal and ordinary,” Ståle Hagen, Head of Transport and Mobility at KPMG Norway, states in the report.
It is still early days for autonomous vehicles, and the technology has a long way to go before fully self-driving cars and buses are commonplace on Norwegian roads. Nevertheless, Olav Madland of Applied Autonomy believes Norway can retain its leading AV-ready position in the years to come.
“I think our greatest strength forward is the close collaboration between the public and private sector. That is how we developed a regulatory framework that paves the way for autonomous testing, and it will continue to be important as the technology develops,” he concludes.
Are you interested in learning more about the growing battery industry and autonomous vehicles in Norway? Please contact Invest in Norway.