Robots will begin to get their driving licenses tomorrow in the Netherlands, provided of course they have a reputable human by their side. The program involves roadworthy cars and the roads everyone else uses, and thus goes beyond Britain’s recent inauguration of a slow robotic tram service in pedestrian malls.
But it’s still just a research program, not a full-blown public service. As the government’s announcement makes plain, only manufacturers, universities and other recognized research outfits will be allowed to play, and then only if they've already tested their vehicles under controlled conditions. There’s a lot of paperwork to fill out, and as the announcement notes, “Please expect an average 3-to-6-month-turn-around time from sending in your application to executing the test.”
Holland has prided itself on its infrastructure ever since it began reclaiming land from the sea with dikes. It has the most densely automated road system in Europe, maybe even the world—though Japan might dispute such a claim.
Unlike in the United States, where companies such as Google have led the charge, the Europeans tend to emphasize putting smarts in the road rather than in the car. One notable project is an intelligent roadway that will run from Rotterdam through Munich and on to Vienna—a project in which the Netherlands appears to have been the prime mover.