The Netherlands is especially AV-friendly.
The Netherlands is especially AV-friendly.
( Source: gemeinfrei / Pixabay)

SMART CARS Autonomous vehicles in the Netherlands: a country report

Author / Editor: Seth Lambert / Isabell Page

As unlikely as it may seem, the Netherlands is a world leader in preparedness for autonomous vehicles and associated technologies.

Going by a number of sources, including international consulting group KPMG’s Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index (AVRI), the Netherlands is the most prepared country in the world for the adoption and use of autonomous vehicles (AVs) due to its aggressive rollout of government-sanctioned operational tests, regulatory legislation accommodating autonomous driving, and consumer acceptance of AVs.

And AVs are just part of the story. Even if one ignores the 'autonomous' portion of the connected, autonomous, shared, and electric (CASE) acronym that’s become popular amongst transport technology aficionados, the Netherlands remains the number-one country in Europe in terms of infrastructure supporting electric vehicles (EVs); as of 2019, the nation boasted no fewer than 40,957 EV charging points (19 per 100 kilometers of paved road). By comparison, Japan, with more than eight times the total length of roads, had 30,390. The Netherlands has mandated that by 2030, all new cars sold in the country must be new-energy vehicles (NEVs). It’s also stated that it will likely reach a target goal of 85 % less CO2 emissions in 2050 as compared to its output in 1990.

The Netherlands also lays claim to a strong, growing, 5G-enhanced communications infrastructure and significant consumer interest in shared-mobility vehicles. Along with this push for advanced connectivity and mobility, in 2019, the nation established the Dutch Strategic Action Plan for Artificial Intelligence (SAPAI) to encourage the adoption of AI technologies in academic research institutions, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and public-private partnerships (PPPs). And a 2018 study conducted by the Wittenborg University of Applied Sciences in Apeldoorn found that of people surveyed, 69 % of respondents were either interested in or excited by AVs, while 37 % thought that AVs would increase the convenience of future transport.

Government actions and platooning pilot

Compared to other countries, AV pilots and testing in the Netherlands tend to be more confined to highways and geofenced industrial areas, as urban environments possess greater numbers of bicyclists and pedestrians than other global locales. Still, more than three-quarters of the country’s population lives in close proximity to areas where AVs are being tested, and Dutch residents appear to be accepting of the technology. There’s already substantial public support for tracking the driving and use of vehicles for the purposes of promoting sustainability and levying road taxes.

In 2015, the Dutch Council of Ministers approved testing of AVs in the Netherlands, and the country took a lead role in establishing the Declaration of Amsterdam, by which the European Union agreed to speed up development of self-driving and network-connected vehicles. In February 2017, the Dutch government approved trials of AVs that lacked a safety driver or engineer onboard.

In March 2018, Dutch Infrastructure Minister Cora van Nieuwenhuizen announced that her country would begin working with the governments of Belgium and Germany to pilot programs to enable convoys of up to 100 heavy-duty autonomous trucks to operate in platoons along the 'tulip corridor' routes between Amsterdam, Antwerp, Rotterdam, and Germany’s Ruhr Valley. To start off, these vehicles are operating during daylight hours, but it’s planned that eventually, they will be driving at night as well. The Dutch government has stated that platooning of vehicles can result in fuel savings of 10 % and a measurable reduction of CO2 emissions.

Infrastructure Minister van Nieuwenhuizen also outlined a €90 million plan to allow Dutch AVs to communicate to road infrastructure using 5G-based vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology, along with the conversion of 1,200 intelligent vehicle and road infrastructure (iVRI) traffic lights in the country. The lights will be able to communicate with vehicles in two ways: they’ll be able to send information about their status (whether they’re red or green) in addition to receive information about what types of vehicles are approaching. Early tests of these lights took place in the Netherlands’ Helmond and Veghel municipalities along the A67 and N279 roads. Feedback showed that during the lights’ operation, road traffic could be decreased by as much as 10 % during rush hours. Congested traffic of trucks, in particular, improved during off-peak hours by 17 %. Less stopping for red lights and less acceleration when lights turned green further decreased CO2 emissions.

In September 2018, the Dutch legislature approved the Netherlands’ Experimenteerwet Zelfrijdende Auto (laws governing the experimental use of self-driving vehicles), which allow for tests and experiments with AVs on public roads in the Netherlands. According to these laws, test AVs are allowed to be driverless, but they must be monitored remotely in real-time. The Dutch government has also created a 'Vehicle Safety & Security Framework' (VSSF) auditing and assessment program that measures functional safety, cybersecurity, and privacy in order to assess the robustness of AV platform software.

AV VDLs, Vision Zero, and the RSSP

In addition, the government is working on a web-based portal to allow online processing of drivers’ licenses and vehicle registration certificates. In 2018, three branches of the government - the Rijksdienst voor het Wegverkeer (RDW, the Dutch Vehicle Authority), the Rijkswaterstaat (RWS, the Dutch infrastructure authority), and the Centraal Bureau voor Rijvaardigheidsbewijzen (CBR, the Dutch central office for driving exams) - began collaborating on a nationwide vehicle driving license (VDL) to operate an AV, the granting of which will hinge on safe and predictable behavior by autonomous driving platforms aligning as closely as possible with human driving procedures in mixed-traffic environments.

American AV platform maker Aurora has been working closely with the RDW for more than seven years. “[The RDW has] contacts with scientific institutes, and it contributes ideas for the automotive sector,” says Sterling Anderson, the founder of Aurora and the former director of the Autopilot program at EV maker Tesla. “We appreciate their unbiased, future-oriented approach that supports our technologies. We continually aim to influence [Dutch and EU] laws and legislation by leading the way with the implementation of new and safe technologies in the market. The RDW is just as progressive as we are [and is] very valuable for our growth and our ambition to raise the bar all the time.”

The RDW has recognized that the Netherlands is a leader in AVs and intelligent mobility, and in the past, it’s contributed to European Union and UN standards for advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS). The RDW is also strongly committed to the Vision Zero goal of reducing fatalities from vehicle accidents to zero by the year 2050. In 2018, the RDW stated that it sought to reduce Dutch road accident casualty figures by 25 % in just two years (by 2020). The Dutch government’s Road Safety Strategic Plan (RSSP), developed in response to reports from the Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek Verkeersveiligheid (SWOV, the Dutch Institute for Road Safety Research), goes further than Vision Zero in that it aims for zero fatalities and zero injuries from road accidents in the Netherlands by 2030. Taking a risk-based approach to safety policies, the RSSP will leverage data from calculated safety performance indicators (SPIs). Part of the RSSP is a discussion about whether intelligent speed adaptation (ISA) technologies should be mandated for inclusion in all vehicles sold in Europe starting in 2021.

Dutch AV technology companies

Dutch companies that produce AV technology include semiconductor firm NXP, guided AV turnkey system provider 2getthere, and AV testing and engineering firm TASS International.

Eindhoven-based chipmaker NXP manufactures automotive system-on-a-chip (SoC) components for AV platforms and systems from such companies as AutoCore, Blackberry, Dongfeng, Momenta, Torc Robotics, ZongMu, TTTech, and Baidu.

Utrecht-based 2getthere is a maker of autonomous group rapid transit (GRT) and personal rapid transit (PRT) shuttle vehicles and systems that are used in multiple locations worldwide, including at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport. 2getthere’s vehicles utilize odometry-based localization in combination with natural or artificial (transponder or magnet) landmarks for navigation. In 2019, German Tier 1 auto parts supplier ZF purchased a controlling interest in 2getthere.

TASS International, based in Helmond, is an AV software, testing, and engineering solution provider that helps AV platform developers and automaker OEMs meet safety, environmental, and smart vehicle targets via computer and real-world driving simulation (TASS is owned by German multinational conglomerate Siemens).