Safety first aim for autonomous cars

Fleet managers could see an end to all their road safety fears if an autonomous car future becomes reality.
According to several speakers at the SMMT’s Connected conference, which took place in London at the end of March, 97-99% of all road accidents are due to human error, with the other 1-3% due to mechanical faults.

Speakers were therefore unanimous in their view that autonomous cars must have safety at the forefront of their development, although they had differing views as to how that safety should be implemented.
Jaguar Land Rover’s group engineering director Wolfgang Ziebart said the target was to make cars safer, rather than eliminate the driver altogether.

“Our intention is not to get rid of the driver; our intention is to make the car and the driving much safer. 99% of all accidents are not caused by mechanical failure; they are caused by the driver.

These systems should support the driver in his task of driving. Some already exist – for instance, adaptive cruise control and emergency brake systems. Next will be that the car follows the car ahead in congestion, so not only will it stop in traffic, but also move on again when the traffic moves. Lane keeping is coming, not just lane departure warning, and so on.

“In more and more situations the driver will be supported, so that eventually in most situations the driver can leave the job to the car’s electronics.”

However, Volvo’s autonomous driving director Marcus Rothoff said that his company’s only aim with autonomous driving was “to have zero accidents”.

Stephan Stass, vice-president of driver assistance systems at Bosch, said there would be several stages of automated driving. Currently, there are advisory systems providing some helpful information, and there are some partial assistance systems, such as adaptive cruise and emergency brake systems. However, the ultimate goal it fully automated driving.

“Fully automated driving represents a fundamental change in responsibility,” said Stass. He pointed out that when driving becomes fully automated the liability for safety moves from the driver to the vehicle and ultimately the vehicle manufacturer.

Data standards and security needed

Car manufacturers and Government have data security at the forefront of their minds when developing connected and autonomous cars, according to Business Innovation and Skills minister Ed Vaizey.

He said that not only was security paramount with connected and autonomous cars, but that data from connected cars should be able to be used on an anonymised and aggregated basis for the greater good.

“Citizens own their own data. You have to start from that principle, but you also have to have an element of common sense about it. Most of us understand that when our data is used you can have a better customer experience – cookies on websites, for instance.

“I think we all understand that aggregated anonymous data can also enhance the customer experience such as for avoiding traffic jams.

“You also don’t want business to have to jump through too many hoops to use that data. In a digital economy, data is vital.”

When quizzed about the possibility of the Government requesting vehicle speeds from car manufacturers, Vaizey stopped short of answering the question directly.

However, on the point that the hacking of a car is in inevitable in the future, he said: “The most rigid security around autonomous driving is needed.”

Fleet insurance premiums fall with auto-brake as standard

Fleets could cut their insurance premiums if they only buy cars fitted with emergency braking technologies such as Volvo’s City Safety system.

Transport minister Robert Goodwill said that insurers can only offer lower premiums when they know cars are fitted with the systems as standard. This means that larger fleets that negotiate directly with insurers should be able to offer insurers the reassurance of standard fitment.

Goodwill said: “In the case of emergency braking, insurers can only take this into account if it’s a standard feature, not an optional extra. The sooner this is standard, the sooner it will be reflected in safety and in reduced premiums.”

Minister hints at driving test changes

The introduction of autonomous cars could bring with it significant changes in the driving test so that licence holders know how to operate the cars.

Transport minister Robert Goodwill likened any changes to the fact that there are driving licences that only allow the holder to drive automatic vehicles.

“We need to look at the particular skills people might need to use these cars. We’re already looking at the driving test to possibly include the use of satellite navigation,” he said.

“As the technology changes, then driving skills will change, not only for those taking their test for the first time, but for those buying these cars for the first time. And some of that may be down to the industry itself to train the drivers.

“Getting out the instruction book is the last thing you do unless you’re absolutely stuck. I think there’s a challenge for the industry that when people do take delivery of these vehicles that they get fully trained.”
Goodwill also used the example that he had never bothered to learn about the voice-activated systems on his Jaguar.

Poor phone reception to hamper autonomous cars

Poor mobile phone reception across the UK’s road network will delay the progress of connected and autonomous cars, according to Mike Bell, Jaguar Land Rover’s connected car director.

The UK’s mobile phone network has been built around population centres and making voice calls, rather than the routes between these urban areas and data communication.

Bell called for better mobile network data speeds and said that they were vital for both connected cars and autonomous vehicles: “Although to some extent an autonomous vehicle doesn’t need connectivity, without it, it limps along. So, we need to think very clearly about the connectivity we have within our country. The pervasiveness of connectivity on our roads is a barrier in terms of enabling us to deliver high bandwidth into the vehicle. That’s something we need to address as a country.

“Mobile networks are population-centric, so the network operators build masts where the people are. Roads move between those centres, so what we see is that there are a significant number of roads with not even 3G speeds on them. That is certainly a challenge. 4G will help with coverage.”