Developers of driverless cars around the world still face a major hurdle: the lack of a legal framework that will allow their creations to hit the roads.
But Citymobil2, a program partially funded by the European Union, has a plan to address that very issue. If all goes according to plan, member countries of the EU could see driverless transportation legal before the United States.
For the last three years, Citymobil2 has conducted pilot programs of their driverless electric shuttles to see how they can safely implement a public transit system, the most recent of which was in the tiny Greek city of Trikala.
Citymobil2's electric shuttles - which are created by mobile app developer RoboSoft and driverless vehicles company EasyMile - tend to fit a maximum of 10 people and reach a speed of 15 miles per hour.
Citymobil2 is currently gearing up for the last of its trials - such as one in San Sebastian, Spain - and planning to present a legal framework that would support driverless public transportation to the European Commission, which is responsible for proposing legislation, August 2016.
More comprehensive than Google?
While the US works slowly to propose rules that will ensure public safety, Citymobil2 is prepping to present a legal framework for driverless public transportation to this summer, Carlos Holguin, project manager at Citymobil2, told Tech Insider.
Citymobil2 has prioritized safety to ensure the European Commission adopts its proposal, drawing inspiration from railroads for its approach with driverless public transportation.
"Railways are the safest land transport system because the system is designed as a whole - it allows for a safety assessment of the whole structure," Holguin said.
Holguin said he thinks it's best to split roads into different "modules" and focus on making each individual module safe for driverless cars. That way, you can assess an entire string of modules for safety in the same way you would assess an entire railroad track.
To make that vision a reality, Citymobil2 plans to place sensors in roads and create smart traffic light systems designed to better prevent collisions.
"That kind of tech is simple compared to Google [cars], and we think it's more comprehensive," Holguin explained.
Citymobil2 is not the only group rolling out cars geographically. But while the program is focused on using smart streets to make its vision a reality, other companies are turning to mapping routes.
Chinese internet company Baidu recently tested its autonomous driverless car on a 18.6-mile route, the technology of which will be used to create driverless public transportation in the next three years. Baidu will meticulously map routes in order to release the public transport systems geographically.
Additionally, Audi, Daimler, and BMW acquired Here, the former mapping division of Nokia, to make real-time maps to aid their driverless car efforts, the Verge reported. Google is also mapping routes.
Holguin said creating smart streets in conjunction with driverless cars is the safer way to go.
"That way it's not based just on what the vehicle sees from the sensors," he said.
It's unclear how long it would take to implement a legal framework if the European Commission likes what Citymobil2 has to offer in August. But the fact that an EU-funded program is ready to address the legality of driverless cars before the US federal government doesn't bode well for American tech companies.
Currently, there is no federal framework for implementing self-driving cars to the public in the US. That responsibility lies with the States, which are responsible for making their own regulations. But most states have not yet addressed the issue.
California's Department of Motor Vehicles proposed a set of rules last week for use of driverless cars in the public. The preliminary rules prohibit autonomous vehicles that don't have a steering wheel or a brake pedal and require a human driver to be present.
Holguin said he hopes that EU member countries will be able to adopt a legal framework soon to improve an otherwise lacking public transport systems.
"The problem with public transportation today is lowsy quality service," Holguin said. "These kind of systems would apply good quality transportation not possible with seated drivers."