Interview Hungary: In the frontline

Author / Editor: Peter S. Szirmai / Susanne Hertenberger

More than a dozen companies have indicated their intention towards the Hungarian government to use the 35-40 billion HUF (130 million EUR) testing track for self-driving cars that is under construction in south-west Hungary – says István Lepsényi, undersecretary for economic development and regulation.

István Lepsényi, Hungarian undersecretary for economic development and regulation
István Lepsényi, Hungarian undersecretary for economic development and regulation

European Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society, Günther H. Oettinger recently visited the Technical University in Budapest as he learnt about the Hungarian project to develop self-driving vehicles, including the testing track, and gave a lecture in the topic.

Was this initiative your idea?

István Lepsényi: Mr. Oettinger was invited to the conference by the Ministry for National Economy, the idea of the testing track came from undersecretary for education, László Palkovics. What I added was only to emphasise autonomous driving. This is the spearhead of vehicles manufacturing today. I think this is why it is a good combination not to speak simply about a testing track but to add the capabilities not present elsewhere, but necessary for the testing of autonomous driving and electric cars as well as the developments to reduce emissions. We tried to find out what was new in this.

Do you seriously think that we can get to the global frontlines of the industry just because of a testing track once automotive companies have invested Dollar- and Euro-millions in recent decades in the development of self-driving vehicles?

When I learnt what research is being done in Hungary by Continental, ThyssenKrupp, Bosch, Knorr-Bremse and several other companies, it came out that these are very serious developments. Bosch, for example, does all sensor- and software developments and a significant part of research in autonomous driving in Hungary. If we create optimal conditions for these companies, that could strengthen the positions of the country.

Was the conference at the Technical University, on which Mr Oettinger gave a lecture a few weeks ago, organised for the review of this?

The commissioner was surprised as he did not think that Hungary is so advanced in this field of research and that such development is being done at the Technical University as part of the Industry 4.0. programme. At the exhibition adjacent to the conference not only the multinationals who have R&D here introduced themselves. There were Hungarian companies, for example the software developer AdasWorks, who is also in the frontline of the development of self-driving cars. They will soon run a 70-100 vehicles test jointly with Volvo.

But not yet in Zalaegerszeg. Am I right to think that there will be many testers once the legal possibility to travel with self-driving cars will open up?

Such testing track is already the spearhead of development, as the developments are actualised in several levels. First on the testing track, where it is possible to try many things in safe circumstances. Real-life actualisation can come later. Soon it will be possible to travel on highways with somewhat autonomous vehicles.