Autonomous vehicles are still interesting for cities actors?

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Bordeaux (2024)


Over the last five years, media interest in autonomous vehicles has fallen sharply. The health crisis linked to COVID-19, as well as other international events, have diverted attention from an object whose technological evolution is slower than had been announced. However, announcements in the specialist media show us that technological development is continuing, perhaps more slowly than the most ambitious announcements, but surely. The consequences of this technological slowdown and media neglect have been significant for certain economic players: at the beginning of 2023, we learned of the economical problems of the French company Navya, which was subsequently bought by Gaussin, and in February 2024 we learned that the giant of technology Apple had stopped researching about the subject. But what about the public sector? How have they positioned themselves in relation to autonomous vehicles now that the media interest - and therefore the social interest - is elsewhere?
Between 2018 and 2023, I carried out a PhD on how cities are preparing for the potential arrival of autonomous vehicles, already presented as part of the 27th International Colloquium of Gerpisa in 2019. This thesis, defended in December 2023, enabled me to observe first-hand the evolution in the interest that is generally shown in the subject, not only by the media but also by the various players who were interviewed as part of the thesis at different times. Although my doctoral research only briefly touched on this evolution, my objective for this paper is to take advantage of the research carried out to analyse, mainly on the basis of material gathered during the thesis, the evolution of interest in autonomous vehicles among stakeholders and public decision-makers. To complete the thesis, over 50 semi-structured interviews were conducted between 2018 and 2022, with metropolitan stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds: decision-makers from public authorities, both from the political sphere and technicians, consultancy institutions or experts with power to influence decisions, as well as private companies. This was done in three different regions: the Paris metropolitan area, the UAE cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and Bogota in Colombia. This work was accompanied and supplemented by listening to conferences and reading scientific literature, as well as analysing official documents and, finally, press articles and contributions on websites, in order to keep abreast of the latest developments in a topic that is subject to constant evolution and rapid change. Some more recent additional research has helped to supplement and update the information gathered during the doctorate.
The most informed players are aware that technological research will not come to a halt, and their concerns remain intact. This implies a continuation of actions already undertaken, such as the experiment with an autonomous shuttle in the Bois de Vincennes, which has been extended and made more complex in 2021. In Dubai, the objective of achieving 25% of journeys by self-driving transport by 2030 remains intact. Nevertheless, the decline in media and social interest in the subject has greatly reduced one of the reasons for experimenting with new technologies: the showcase effect, the image of the city. This has led to a shift in priorities, resulting in a drop in funding and the halting of certain projects, as in the case of the autonomous shuttle that was due to be tested in Bogota in 2020, a project that was suspended because of the pandemic and has not yet been relaunched. This significant drop in trials is probably one of the reasons of Navya crisis. The shift in priorities has also led to a reduction in public research and scientific interest in these issues. However, since private research has not been halted, new projects continue to emerge. A good example of this is autonomous buses, which have been trialled more and more frequently in recent years. The development of suitable infrastructure, an issue that has lagged behind vehicle development, is also continuing. At the same time, the legal and regulatory framework continues to evolve, adapting better and better to autonomous driving.
The answer to the initial question is that there has been a major shift in priorities, which has had a number of consequences, particularly for the most visible experiments. Nevertheless, the subject is far from disappearing; on the contrary, it continues to develop, except that the actions taken are less publicised and generally more discreet.

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