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I found myself thinking about the Jetsons last month: it was less millennial nostalgia since my cohort has been doing less well compared to their parents, the first generation to fall into this unfortunate predicament since the end of WW2 or the fact that almost all of the millennials are over 30 and hopefully has some time and money to spend on childhood memorabilia (thinking about the soaring sports cards business especially in the US).

Yes, I believe that these factors also played a role but I was actually thinking about driverless cars, autopiloted land vehicles and CCAM. We still have a long way to go for driverless cars or cars that you don’t have to worry about sleeping inside your comfy car bed as you criss-cross across the country (Long-road truck drivers has impressive nooks in the back of their trucks as long as there have been trucks around.) We can have driverless trucks that carry loads of goods much sooner: although coordinating these trucks would be a steep regulatory and habitual challange for people on roads.

Firstly, a challenge would be encountered as these vehicles needs to be mass-produced on a scale. The differences already entailed by the traffic rules between the US and the European countries would be the first thing to come to mind, but what about the differences between national entities even among EU members? Do we have enough to regulate and “seamlessly” connect traffic from Istanbul to London for safe, coordinated and connected driverless land transport of goods and people?

We already have legislation that is already at force: for example, the data created by these vehicles are clearly owned by the “user” and not the company, hence providing a legal protection barrier for the European citizen for years to come. Yet, pan-European regulations and in even simpler terms, “traffic rules” seems out of reach for now as these rules take traditional aspects at times for people of a given country (not only Great Britain’s left lane rule, but think about the differences in road signs and symbols, just one cultural aspect of “traffic” amongst many).

In 2023 CCAM Conference in Brussels, during one of the most illuminating sessions of the two-day event, Volvo Group Trucks which is known to be the main spender of Sweden’s R&D expenditure by itself, Senior VP and Head of Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs Niklas Gustaffson talked about what will be required from the trucking industry for a clear path to EU’s 2050 goals: by 2030, 1/3 of all new trucks that will be enrolled to the traffic needs to be fueled by clean electric and the standardisation and harmonisation of testing of new infrastructure and vehicles needs to have been harmonised.

Jetsons symbolised a certain kind of 1960’s suburbian dream of a prosperous, nuclear family. It depicted what full automaton meant for multiple generations although the show by itself definitely hit some undertones that can only be picked up by adults: what does the fully automated future entail when and if the machines broke down? Will we be able to brush our teeth when what we all ever know in our lifetimes are automatic tooth brushes and that “teeth brushing machine” suddenly doesn’t work? (One cannot help but think about the effects of ChatGPT and other AI on our writing skills whether it is high literature or everyday online chats). While we still pursue and dream about an automated future where we don’t have to work hard as much with our basic needs met, the machines still needs constant human manipulation and tinkering. Just as washing machines or vacuum cleaners did not decrease the amount of time spent doing housework as much as we think (only 1 hour per week after a century of automating housework), I believe we still have to rely on our human faculties even though things become more and more “automated”.

Public transport is great, but maybe I will apply for that drivers’ license after all.

Bağlan Deniz, Etkin EU Projects Consultant

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