Pangyo will open road for driverless cars

Gyeonggi province wants to take lead on related technologies

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The Gyeonggi government announced that it will build the world’s first road that will allow self-driven or autonomous vehicles to travel in Pangyo, where major IT companies are located.

The local government plans on turning the second Pangyo Digital Valley, which will start construction today, into a special district for testing autonomous vehicles. It hopes that the project will help speed up commercialization of the next-generation vehicle.

The decision by the Gyeonggi government comes at a time when major companies, including tech companies like Apple and Google, are aggressively competing in the development of autonomous vehicles. Even Samsung Electronics announced earlier this month that it is jumping into the automotive industry to find growth in the future.

The road will be roughly 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) long, with two lanes in each direction. The road will also be opened to ordinary vehicles.

In the early stage, self-driven cars will only be allowed to travel on weekends or holidays when there are fewer vehicles on the road. When the safety of the autonomous vehicles is verified, the vehicles will be allowed to run at faster speeds and their operation hours will increase. Safety devices will also be built between the roads and sidewalks.

Self-driven vehicles operate on the global positioning system (GPS) and sensors that read traffic signals as well as surroundings obstacles and other vehicles.

Numerous IT companies and automakers are developing self-driving vehicles. As of now, the vehicles have been tested on special tracks, and there have been limits on testing the performance of the vehicles on actual roads. The Gyeonggi government said the road in Pangyo will be a great opportunity for the developers to complete their technology by testing it in actual road conditions.

Even in the United States, there are no roads that allow autonomous vehicles to be driven.

“The Pangyo special district will be the world’s ‘test town’ for autonomous vehicles by 2017,” a Gyeonggi province representative said. “We are planning on attracting foreign self-driving car manufacturers to move in or establish partnerships.”

Once the technology is commercialized, Gyeonggi plans to operate autonomous cars as an alternate to taxis in a special district. A passenger will punch in a destination, and the vehicle will automatically drive to the location. The province also plans to operate a self-driven bus.

“We are currently negotiating with central government departments in designating the road within the second Pangyo Digital Valley as a test area for autonomous vehicles,” a Gyeonggi government official said. “Once approved, the Pangyo district will be the world’s first autonomous vehicle city.”

Gyeonggi Gov. Nam Kyung-pil’s visit to Masdar City in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates is also part of the local government’s ambition to create a city with autonomous vehicles.

Masdar City denies entry of ordinary vehicles. After individuals park their cars outside the city, they need to use driverless public transit to reach locations within the city. More than two million passengers used the transit system in the past five years, and no accident has been reported over the same period. Governor Nam and experts, who visited Masdar City, looked at the system and discussed policies that would fit in their own Pangyo district.

“Not only is the autonomous vehicle related to IT and manufacturing technology, but it has deep connections to automotives, semiconductors and materials fields,” Nam said. “This is the reason why Korea can lead the overall autonomous vehicles market [with our advanced technologies in related industries].

“We plan to make Gyeonggi a ‘global standard’ for the autonomous driving market, starting with the Pangyo special district.”

The second Pangyo Digital Valley is meant to attract major technology businesses and will cover a 430,000-square-meter (4.62 million-square-foot) area including land owned by the Korea Express Corporation and Korea International Corporation Agency.

BY SOHN HAE-YONG [kim.youngnam@joongang.co.kr]