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Helping to shape the Global Driverless Revolution

03 May 2017

In this article, we look at the road ahead for autonomous vehicles.

1. Our take-away points from attending the EU Commission’s first Connected and Automated Driving (CAD) Conference

  • Autonomous vehicles will (of course!) decrease emissions, reduce congestion, facilitate more leisure time, and increase independence (especially for the young, elderly and less able-bodied). They will also improve safety - an often forgotten fact is the number of deaths on European roads that occur, almost all of which are caused by human error. Did you know that there were over 25,000 deaths on European roads last year?
  • Signature by Member States of the Declaration of Amsterdam (see here) created a renewed focus for the EU to proactively shape the future of Autonomous Vehicles. The EU’s C-ITS strategy, supported by funding programmes such as CEF and EFSI, will enable vehicles to talk to each other across European transport infrastructure from 2019. The strategy seeks to use information sharing to avoid a fragmented internal market in C-ITS services.
  • The deployment of autonomous vehicles will happen sooner than people realise. One of the challenges is the ability for “old-fashioned” cars, autonomous vehicles, objects and people to occupy our roads in a coordinated and harmonious manner.
  • As with the industrial revolution, we must take care to create new jobs and skills as the demand for lower-skilled jobs (bus, truck and taxi drivers) decreases.
  • Last but not least, well-designed regulations and standards are needed, including in respect of traffic law, liability, vehicle certification and connectivity infrastructure. This needs deep collaboration and co-ordination. The EU and the UK need to provide a forward looking legal and regulatory framework, innovation-friendly conditions and more financial support to research projects and trials, including through Horizon 2020 and the GEAR 2030 high-level group.

2. Data is key

A single autonomous vehicle can produce 1GB of data every second. The future roll-out of 5G by telcos will have a pivotal role in the deployment of autonomous vehicles. Data is at the core of connected and automated driving – certain data has to be shared to make the deployment of autonomous vehicles viable. Volvo Cars believes governments and car makers should join hands in sharing traffic data in order to improve global traffic safety. Of course, rights of privacy need to be addressed and steps taken to address cyber security threats.

As is often the case, policy and law making are lagging behind (which is understandable given the complexity, new technology and trials required). That said, there is plenty for manufacturers and other suppliers to think about in the meantime to ensure compliance with forthcoming laws (such as privacy by design and GDPR).

3. What about the UK – are we ready?

As noted in Tech Predictions 2017, the UK is well placed for the development of driverless cars. The Vehicle Technology and Aviation Bill has now passed through the Committee stage in the House of Commons. The Bill provides for a ‘single insurer’ model for autonomous vehicles, whereby liability for damage rests with a single insurer for an accident caused while the vehicle is driving itself. The exceptions to liability are where the insured person makes or knowingly allows unauthorised alterations to be made to a vehicle’s software or where the person fails to install software updates which are required under their policy.

The Government is taking a step by step approach to legislative and regulatory change with a focus on research, testing and gathering evidence to support future policy decisions. However, the House of Lords has (quite rightly) urged the Government to set up a Robotics and Autonomous System (RAS) Leadership Council as soon as possible to develop a strategy and lead the way in standards addressing ethical issues, data protection and cybersecurity.

4. It’s happening sooner than you think…

In 2016 the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab was launched in Greenwich, led by consultancy firm TRL with funding provided by the UK Government. The living lab provides a real-life testing ground for autonomous vehicles, rather than an artificial off-street facility. Tech developers, vehicle and original equipment manufacturers can use the lab for research and development of their products to see how they react to buses, pedestrians and cyclists.

The living lab is home to the GATEway project which is dedicated to testing different use cases for autonomous vehicles such as driverless shuttles and automated urban deliveries. Move-UK is another project, where a consortium including Bosch and JLR gather data from the testing environment. This data is then used to improve the safety of driverless systems and accelerate their deployment.

5. It’s not just cars...

In a recent report published by its Science and Technology Select Committee, the House of Lords astutely criticised the Government for being too focused on private driverless cars, rather than considering the full potential of autonomous vehicle technology in sectors such as agriculture, the military, the marine industry and public services, which could see fully-automated vehicles introduced before they are rolled out to private consumers.

Did you know that Rolls Royce is testing robotic ships? The company estimates that fully autonomous ships will be a routine sight on the world’s seas in just 10 to 15 years’ time, navigating independently and with no crew on board.

6. Platooning

Fleets of vehicles wirelessly connected which form a “road-train” could soon become a reality on Britain’s motorways. ‘Platooning’ involves a fleet of autonomous vehicles connected to one lead vehicle controlled by driver. It has already been trialled in the European Commission’s Sartre project as shown in this video. There will (of course) be safety issues to overcome, such as limiting the number of vehicles in the platoon to ensure pedestrians can cross the road. However, due to the constant communication of data between vehicles, platooning is likely, overall, to be safer and more efficient than human driving. This will, in my view, transform key aspects of the logistics industry.

Until now, platooning trials have focused on lorries for the transportation of freight, but private vehicles may also be able to connect up to road trains and tag along for the ride.

7. Cyber security and the dark side…

‘Robots taking over the world’ is a prominent theme in the sci-fi genre, but in the near future the greater risk comes from humans using technology for malevolent purposes.

Last year, it was revealed that the world’s biggest data breach was in fact the attack affecting one billion Yahoo accounts back in August 2013. Connected vehicles and the vast amount of data they process will provide a tempting new venture for cybercriminals. In September last year, a team of hackers apparently took control of a driverless vehicle from a distance of 12 miles away. The team was able to interfere with the car’s brakes, door locks and computer screen. The risk is not limited to hacks of individual vehicles, but also to the ‘vehicle-to-vehicle’ and ‘vehicle-to-infrastructure’ systems which allow vehicles to ‘talk’ to each other, and to the transport network itself. A large-scale hack of this nature could cause chaos. We are likely to see increasingly strict requirements on manufacturers and developers to embed multi-levelled cyber security protection into products including firewalls, encryption and detection of intrusions.

The road ahead…

While autonomous vehicles present a plethora of practical and legal challenges, it remains a fact that some 90% of car accidents are caused by human error. According to Sweden’s Vision Zero initiative, every year almost 1.2 million people die on the roads, a truly shocking statistic. The introduction of technology that can reduce this figure is very welcome indeed. The journey is well underway and it’s a truly exciting one

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