The following five cities have been profiled based on interesting work on AVs by their local and municipal governments. They have not been ranked against each other or against other cities not profiled here.

Beijing, China     |     Detroit, United States     |     Helsinki, Finland     |     Pittsburgh, United States     |     Seoul, South Korea

Beijing, China

China nationally set a goal in 2016 of mastering the overall technology of intelligent assisted driving and various key technologies and establishing an independent research and development system and production capacity for intelligent connected vehicles by 2020.

As well as being the capital where these decisions are taken, Beijing has taken a leading position among China's cities. In December 2017, it became the first Chinese city to authorize testing of AVs on public roads. The regulations were co-drafted by Beijing’s transportation commission, traffic management bureau and economy and information technology commission, which together will be responsible for overseeing the industry as it expands in the capital. The regulations have served as a model for other Chinese cities.

The regulations require that companies must first complete tests in designated closed zones before they can conduct open road tests. When the guidelines were first issued, Beijing earmarked 33 road sections with a total length of 105km (65 miles) for testing AVs, at the time the most among all Chinese cities. The number of sections as well as the total length of roadways has since increased.

In December 2019, Beijing began to allow the testing of AVs with passengers, with technology company Baidu the first company to obtain permission to test 40 vehicles. In May 2020, AV provider became the first start-up approved to test passenger-carrying AVs on open roads.

Apart from Pittsburgh in the US, Beijing is one of the few cities to require AV testers to disclose the miles they have driven, the size of their vehicle fleets and the disengagements they have experienced. Thirteen Chinese companies drove 77 autonomous vehicles 1.04 million km on Beijing roads during 2019, up from the 153,600 km eight firms drove in 2018.

In China, AVs have been used in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic by transporting medical supplies and food to healthcare professionals and the public in infected areas and disinfecting hospitals and public surfaces to reduce the spread of coronavirus. Baidu partnered with Neolix, a local self-driving startup, to deliver food and supplies to staff at the Haidian Hospital.

The Beijing 2022 Organizing Committee is hoping to make the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics the most technology driven in history, with AVs planned to play a huge role. In order to achieve this goal, $50 million is being invested to develop a 100 square km testing zone.

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CCTV Headquarters, Beijing, China
Importance of AVs to Beijing


Detroit, United states
Importance of AVs to Detroit

Detroit, United States

Detroit has been able to use AVs to help fuel the economic resurgence of the city. Multiple companies are currently testing AVs in the city, including AV startups Argo AI and May Mobility, vehicle maker Ford and Google’s sister company Waymo. In addition, dozens of AV-related startups are coming to the city from all over the world in the hopes of partnering with big American car companies.

State and local governments are helping to market Detroit’s talent pool to firms that might not think otherwise of locating in the Motor City, the name Detroit gained in the early 20th century as the US’s leading location for car manufacturing. In late 2017, the Detroit Regional Chamber and Michigan’s Economic Development Corporation launched the PlanetM Landing Zone. This has attracted 56 members, including German car part supplier Bosch and US ride-hailing company Lyft, as well as startups including Derq, a UAE company focused on pedestrian safety.

The state of Michigan has launched the Michigan Office of Future Mobility under the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, which is charged with leading the strategic coordination of all mobility-related initiatives across economic development, workforce, and infrastructure efforts in the state to secure Michigan’s status as a global leader in autonomous, connected, electric, and shared future mobility. The department also hosts the Michigan Council on Future Mobility and Electrification.

While other US cities including Pittsburgh and San Francisco have seen research, developing and testing of AVs generate economic and employment benefits, Detroit has been able to leverage its Motor City legacy to become the world leader in AV manufacturing as well. Waymo repurposed an abandoned vehicle factory to open the world’s first dedicated AV manufacturing plant, which will employ more than 400 people when fully operational. Both Ford and GM have also announced large investments to develop AV and EV manufacturing in the city.

The city is also taking steps to make sure that it is able to provide the workforce required by AV companies. The Michigan Mobility Institute is retraining vehicle industry workers with skills in AI, robotics, cybersecurity and other relevant fields, and is partnering with community colleges, trade schools and online learning platforms to help develop new skilled-trade including AV repair, connected fleet management and AV safety drivers. Together with university partners, the Institute has developed a Master of Mobility degree program, which will focus on developing a systems-level understanding across areas including software development, AI machine learning and data sciences.

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Helsinki, Finland

Helsinki is a global leader in the smart city movement and is taking a holistic approach to become a transportation trendsetter through the integration of mobility as a service, EVs and AVs with goal of the city becoming carbon neutral by 2035.

Helsinki was one of the first major cities to appoint a chief design officer when it established the Helsinki Lab in 2016, with the job of making design, knowledge, digitalization and interaction an integral part of city development. The role includes overseeing cross-cutting efforts to integrate AVs into the urban environment.

The city has taken other major steps to encourage innovation. Forum Virium Helsinki is a city-owned innovation company which focuses on transportation innovation projects, open data and smart mobility. It works with companies, universities, other public sector organizations and residents with the aim of making Helsinki the most functional smart city in the world, with more than 750 companies and 170 research facilities involved. As well as AVs, it is supporting the development of an autonomous ship.

As part of the work of Forum Virium, Helsinki is a major contributor to the Fabulos (future automated bus urban level operation system) project, a development program with six other European cities to develop solutions for AVs. It aims to deliver a systemic proof-of-concept for using AV minibuses to provide the ‘last mile’ linking existing urban public transport systems to people’s homes and workplaces.

On regulation, the city’s traffic and street planning office works closely with different city units, the traffic safety agency, and other public entities. In general, regulators in Finland are agile and Finnish legislation makes it possible to carry out versatile autonomous tests with different forms of transport with test permits able to be obtained effortlessly, and with easy interaction with the authorities.

Helsinki’s first AV pilot in 2016 involved the establishment of a very short bus route in the city’s waterfront district, with several other pilots of varying distances and durations having followed. April 2020 saw three self-driving vehicles starting to serve a circular route including Pasila train station in Helsinki, part of the Fabulos project, although they initially ran without passengers as a result of the coronavirus crisis. The project aims to get its service commercially implemented by the city council and HSL, the regional transport authority.

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Cathedral night view, Helsinki
Importance of AVs to Helsinki


Pittsburgh, United States

Pittsburgh, United States

AVs represent a fast-growing industry for Pittsburgh, which hosts a strong list of companies in the field. US ride-hailing company Uber, US AV startups Argo AI and Aurora and Irish AV technology specialist Aptiv are present in the city, building on decades of research on AI and robotics research at Carnegie Mellon University. As of April 2019, the four companies and the university were testing 55 level 4 self-driving cars, with such activities have generated over 1,300 local jobs.

In March 2019, the City of Pittsburgh issued an executive order that lays out the objectives and expectations for testing of AVs in the city, which established an AV department within the city’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. Representatives from the five organizations involved in AV testing in the city were present at the signing ceremony, demonstrating the strong emphasis on partnership that is a hallmark of Pittsburgh’s approach. Its principles included instituting transparent lines of communication between the city and those testing AVs; annual reports on the implementation of AV policies; promoting automated driving systems that encourage high vehicle occupancy with lower or no emissions, and lower cost and equitable transportation options; and engaging industry leaders and community stakeholders to collaboratively facilitate the further development and deployment of AV technology.

The council has taken a proactive approach on how AVs may change the city. In May 2019 it won a US$410,000 award from the Knight Foundation to help demystify AV technology for the public, designed to help ensure that the public understands the technology, its limitations and opportunities, and funding a director who will organize discussions across the city to help inform city policy.

Pittsburgh also provides an example of what exposure to operating AVs can have on public perceptions. The city’s cyclist advocacy group BikePGH conducted surveys in 2017 and 2019 on opinions of AVs. In the most recent survey respondents used words like “unremarkable” or “nothing notable” to describe their interactions with AVs and just over half said they had shared the road with such a vehicle, suggesting that interacting with AVs is becoming commonplace and an accepted part of urban life. Respondents felt safer sharing the road with AVs than cars driven by human drivers, and felt that AVs have the potential to reduce injuries and fatalities, with 72 percent feeling that AVs will significantly or slightly improve safety on the streets. However, although 70 percent of respondents approved of the Pittsburgh being a proving ground for AVs, some also felt that since the companies are not paying to run tests on public streets they should contribute funds to help support public transport, cycle lanes, sidewalks and road improvements.

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Seoul, South Korea

In December 2019, South Korean vehicle maker Hyundai Motor started tests of AVs on the capital city’s streets, initially with six vehicles on 23 roads. It plans to expand its fleet to 15 vehicles, all hydrogen electric driven, by 2021. As part of the agreement, the city will provide the vehicles with traffic data every 0.1 seconds and will also share its data with schools and companies that want to test AV technology.

The agreement with Hyundai built on other city projects. In June 2019, the Seoul Metropolitan Government announced the completion of what it described as the world’s first 5G convergence AV test bed at the Sangam Digital Media Center in the west of the city. This allows self-driving cars to use 5G mobile networking and vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technology on a normal road. The plan for the AV test bed is to promote convergence between 5G and V2X, which includes communication between vehicles and other vehicles (V2V); vehicles and infrastructure (V2I); and vehicle and people (V2P).

The Sangam Digital Media Center has also been testing unmanned delivery robots built by Unmanned Solutions, a locally-based startup. As part of a one-year city-funded pilot that began in October 2019, four-wheeled EVs are being used to move supplies from trucks on a main road to restaurants and shops in car-free zones in Sangam. During the trial, the vehicles are traveling across pedestrianized areas such as parks, plazas and streets that are closed to other vehicles.  

In May 2020, the city’s government launched use of three AV buses, four cars and three delivery robots on public roads in Sangam as part of its smart mobility project. These will be used for contactless car-sharing, automatic parking and deliveries to locations that normal cars cannot access. Residents of Seoul will be able to apply for free rides on the buses, which will travel along a 3.3km (two miles) route six days a week, through the city’s Topis traffic information website. The project partners involves Unmanned Solutions, AV robot builder Dogugonggan and the city’s Yonsei University.

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Lotte world tower, Seoul, South Korea
Importance of AVs to Seoul