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Portugal authorities planning free zones for drone research

Portugal authorities planning free zones for drone research

Lisbon, November 1, 2017

According to a Reuters report, the Portuguese authorities are planning to have “free zones” for the testing of drones and autonomous cars. These free zones will have special regulations to allow for the testing of such technologies and attract investments through them. This move comes amidst the government’s aim to spur the development of drones and self-driving vehicles.

Cheap property and well-educated engineers with low wages following Portugal’s 2011-14 debt crisis, have been cited by the report as reasons that paved the way for entrepreneurs and the sharp rise in the country’s tech start-ups in the past few years. Hosting the biggest technology conference, Web Summit, in 2016 has helped Portugal’s rise in the technology sector. Lisbon will open the conference for the second time next week.

Foreign investment in the sector helped propel the country’s economic growth in 2017 to its highest level in more than a decade and the government hopes new regulation can draw more companies.

“We are working a lot on the regulatory and legal aspects because this is really totally fundamental for opportunities in this area,” Ana Lehmann, Industry Secretary, told Reuters in an interview. Lehmann said the Portuguese government was working carefully on the laws needed for such zones. The country had earlier this year restricted the use of drones to raise public security. In addition to that, Portuguese law currently does not allow the testing of self-driving cars on public roads.

The government also wants to promote the research and testing of self-driving cars along with drones, according to Lehmann.

“We are studying some locations and what is needed…within a legal framework that is very careful because these technologies have an impact,” she said. “This is a delicate topic and we want to do it properly,” she added.

There are several companies that can allow Portugal to advance in this sector. Veniam is one of Portugal’s leading technology companies. It has developed wireless networks for public transport and hopes to use that know-how for autonomous vehicles. Veniam first developed its system in the city of Porto, which Lehmann said was a “very interesting test case”.

Mercedes-Benz this year opened a digital centre in Lisbon, which includes development of autonomous vehicle technology while Volkswagen has a big assembly plant in Portugal. The country is also angling for a potential European factory under consideration at Tesla Motors as it has one of Europe’s biggest reserves of lithium.

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