Automotive planners and developers are working overtime to provide more autonomous features and functions, but there’s still plenty of uncertainty surrounding driverless cars. Many legal and regulatory issues remain unsettled, and industry suppliers must address many issues during what is sometimes called the glide to autonomy.
These challenges were among many discussed by participants on “The Autonomous Vehicle Race” panel Tuesday morning at SAE 2015 World Congress. Technical issues remain, but many of the presentations and questions centered on non-technical issues such as regulations and liability. One concern was that states are passing laws without fully understanding many aspects of driverless cars.
“The fear of state-to-state legislation is that we’ll face 50 legislative battles, 50 regulatory battles, and we’ll end up with 50 sets of state laws,” said Bryant Walker Smith, Assistant Professor at the University of South Carolina’s Law School. “Skipping from the public to the private sector, there is considerable uncertainty about the ways that product liability and product litigation will evolve. That makes it difficult for companies to plan ahead.”
Tier 1s are rapidly moving forward with systems that will form the basis of true self-driving vehicles. However, defining a truly autonomous vehicle is no simple task, since driving conditions vary widely.
“When you talk about autonomous driving, no one knows for sure what you’re talking about,” said Steffen Linkenbach, Director of Systems & Technology, NAFTA, at Continental Automotive Systems U.S. “Does it mean an urban environment, on the highway, in 10 inches of snow? You have to set these expectations before you start establishing regulations.”
Patrick Bassett, Vice President of Research and Development at Denso International America, described the five levels of autonomous driving, with Level 5 being fully autonomous vehicles. Autonomy will advance in phases as more automated functions are added to the lane keeping and braking functions that are available today. A Honda spokesman described some of the early steps the company is taking to leverage the infrastructure and conserve fuel and reduce travel times.
“We’re working on ways to collect traffic signal information,” said Toshio Yokoyama, Senior Chief Engineer for Honda R&D. “The goal of our research is to improve vehicle behavior (by driving at steady speeds without sudden stops) and improve traffic flow. It’s one step in building a path to fully automated driving.”
Autonomous vehicles will have components and systems from multiple suppliers, making integration a central aspect. At the same time, the expected explosion of connectivity channels provides more pathways for hackers to attack vehicle systems. That’s fostering a burgeoning interest in cooperative projects and security.
“It’s probably necessary to have the industry collaborate,” said Bassett. “Everybody is working to make sure their systems are ‘un-hackable.’ Overall, having one company solve all these security issues is not practical.”
Meeting safety and security challenges will be critical for developers. The margin for error with automated driving systems may be very small. False positives could prompt some drivers to turn off automated functions, which could reduce consumer demand. Failures that cause accidents may also stem interest, particularly if injuries are serious. Panelists stressed the need for reliability and system integrity.
“We need to build confidence in the technology,” Linkenbach said.
Originally published as “Uncertainty surrounds competition to roll out autonomous vehicle” in Automotive Engineering Magazine, one of SAE’s award-winning publications, on April 22, 2015.