Seizing the self-driving vehicle opportunity

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Self-driving vehicles are poised to trigger huge social, industrial and economic benefits.

According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), this market could be worth £51bn (US$61bn) a year to the UK economy by 2030, and will bring about a range of economic and societal benefits.

These include expanding the industrial base, boosting productivity, enhancing road safety and reducing congestion and pollution. However, challenges, such as public perceptions around safety, will need to be tackled as we move toward this future and its undeniable benefits.

Dealing with these issues now will allow us to realize the true potential of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV), something that will only be possible if legislation moves in tandem with technological developments. Codes of practice are a vital component in setting out a path for safe and effective self-driving vehicle development.

More than 90% of car accidents are caused by human error. The implementation of autonomous vehicles has the potential to make our roads drastically safer. The UK government appreciates this and is working to assuage concerns members of the public may have about the emerging technology. The Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) recently updated its code of practice to describe how self-driving vehicles should operate on UK roads. Provisions have been made for either an onboard or remote safety operator to take control of the vehicle should any issues occur.

The new code also stipulates that vehicle manufacturers, and others wanting to trial CAVs, should publish a safety test case. The safety test case must consist of information relevant to the planned trials, including the vehicle to be used, details of the activity to be undertaken, evidence that it can be performed in a safe environment and a list of interactions with the relevant authorities. Regulated testing with remote operators is due to take place on public roads by 2021, fulfilling the government’s desire to see fully autonomous cars on the road by the end of that year.

For the full benefits of autonomous vehicles to be realized, they will need to be connected to roadside infrastructure and to each other. This will enable smart traffic management, which will ease the movement of cars in congested areas, but it does also put vehicles at risk from hacking. Safety and security cannot be separate in cyber-physical systems such as CAVs, and the progression of cybersecurity needs to happen concurrently with physical safety solutions.

The information in the code of practice will help to establish a more systematic roadmap for safe self-driving vehicle development both in the real world and online. It acts as a lynchpin in delivering the uniform procedures and expectations around safe and responsible trials – to ensure self-driving vehicles achieve their transformative potential and make road travel safer. The way the dots are joined between policy and technology is the best route to the highest possible level of safety and resilience.

The industry is creating a vast amount of data, which is incredibly valuable for the progression of self-driving vehicles. However, safety-related data can only be capitalized upon if stakeholders share it for the greater good of the industry. For example, self-driving trials are going to unlock valuable information for the police, and other relevant authorities, around self-driving vehicles on the UK’s roads. This information could be leveraged to avoid issues in the future and provide opportunities for all organizations in the space to learn from shared experiences. CCAV’s new code states that data recorders must harvest data from software and hardware, whether the vehicle is being operated manually or in automated mode. Speed, location and the proximity of objects and other vehicles, among other factors, must be recorded, aligning with European requirements for safety data.

There are many factors to consider data-wise, for example, self-driving vehicles are going to be communicating with each other, roadside infrastructure and broader national telecoms networks. This communication will need to be conducted safely and securely. This can only be achieved via the introduction of progressive standards and codes of practice. At the center of these protocols is a need for seamless information sharing, not only between vehicles but also different manufacturers.

The self-driving future does look bright. The UK has one of the leading regulatory frameworks to support development to deployment and it has also been instrumental in the development of EU safety and testing legislation, so is well placed to lead the charge.

It is important for the ecosystem to have an organization that acts as a hub for the industry, with the connections, and influence at the highest level, to support to UK self-driving vehicle organizations.

Aligned with CCAV and the Department for Transport, Meridian is collaborating with a range of partners across the automotive, cybersecurity and infrastructure sectors to develop a single CAV Roadmap to 2030 – which provides the steps required to achieve the safe, efficient and beneficial deployment of CAVs. In this way, the company can focus on collaboration, informing future codes of practice, to seize the advantages of CAVs.

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