EU accelerates to catch up on connected cars

BMW E46: Running OS X Snow Leopard.

BMW E46: Running OS X Snow Leopard. [Flickr/ Yutaka Tsutano]

The European Commission, which plans a strategy on connected vehicles later this year, has released a report outlining how to “catch up” on connected vehicles as other countries?like the US and Japan?speed ahead.

A group of representatives from auto manufacturers, local authorities and other officials met monthly with Commission officials between late 2014 and 2015 to put forward their demands for a European plan on connectivity.

The Commission is also convening for the first time next week with industry representatives as part of a new working group on autonomous vehicles.

“Obviously connectivity and automation—we see them together,” said Maria Alfayate, a policy officer at the Commission’s transport deparment (DG MOVE), during the European Automotive Forum in Brussels last week.

The Commission is eager to step up vehicle connectivity as other countries pump money into developing connected car functions and autonomous vehicles.

This month, the Obama administration announced it is investing $4 billion into developing autonomous vehicles over the next decade.

One Commission official said EU research funding comes out to roughly the same amount for the next few years. €100 million in the EU’s Horizon2020 research programme is reserved for automation research.

With the strategy on connectivity set to come out this summer and a new group to start meeting on autonomous vehicles, the Commission looks eager to gain ground on connected vehicles.

EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc said today (21 Janaury), “I want to see connected cars on European roads by 2019 and today’s report is an important milestone towards that objective. It is nevertheless only a first step, more deliverables will come throughout 2016.”

>>Read: EU agency hones in on cybersecurity and connected cars

The Dutch Council presidency made autonomous vehicles one of its priorities and wants to get member states to sign off on a joint declaration on autonomous vehicles during a meeting of transport and environment ministers in April.

The new report to come out of the Commission’s meetings with car manufacturers looks at vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication and names data protection, access to data, and liability as some of the main hurdles standing in the way of the Commission’s plans to boost connected and autonomous cars.

Because increased connectivity and automation can limit a driver’s control over a vehicle, the group recommended they “re-evaluate the question of liability”.

The report also references drivers’ personal data, such as speed and location, that connected vehicles can collect and recommends drivers give their “informed consent” to hand over that data.

Officials said the Commission’s working group on connectivity is also working on cybersecurity, although that barely comes up in the report. An official said the European cybersecurity agency ENISA is also in touch with the group.

An experimental hacking of a Jeep spurred talks last year about cybersecurity checks on cars with new connected functions.

A spokesperson for the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) said connected cars “have the potential to make a significant contribution to societal goals such as increasing the efficiency of road use, improving safety, reducing fuel consumption and bringing down CO2 emissions further in the future.”

“There are outstanding technical questions that need to be addressed and standards should be established to ensure interoperability across Europe, but there is also a clear need for investments,” he added.

>>Read: Consumer groups expose manufacturers for collecting data from connected cars

Connected cars use internet connectivity to perform various functions, including measuring location, road conditions and car performance.

Autonomous or driverless cars do not need driver intervention to function. Car companies have been calling for laws that would allow autonomous cars to drive more freely in Europe.

The EU has been leading initiatives to promote road safety and traffic management by pooling information provided by cars that are hooked up to the digital network infrastructure, as early back as 2010. In particular, the EU executive wants wants the industry to convert their efforts into "a global market success" via enhanced co-operation and standarisation of ICT-aided cars. Car manufacturers have also invested heavily in these.

"With connected cars, we need co-operative research to help develop global standards," said Neelie Kroes, the EU's former Digital Agenda Commisioner.

The European Commission has announced that it will propose legislation in 2016 that will impact connected cars.

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