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Evidence check: Driverless cars 

Science, Innovation and Technology Committee

The Science and Technology Committee invites views on the strength of the evidence in relation to driverless cars.

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4 Contributions (since 24 March 2016)
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Steve Yianni

18 April 2016 at 15:26

The Government’s evidence check on driverless cars correctly states that the potential benefits of self-driving vehicles are massive, whether it be in terms of safety (where we may be able to significantly reduce the 2,000 deaths a year on UK roads alone), congestion or increased access to mobility for all. There is a need for serious, sustained and well-validated technology trials in the coming years if we are to ensure that these benefits are fully and promptly realised. It is worth noting, however, that much is already being done to progress this. For example, the Transport Systems Catapult (TSC), has been leading the LUTZ Pathfinder project since 2013 which is trialling three pavement-based self-driving “pods” in central Milton Keynes and is a partner in the UK Autodrive programme which will use the roads and pavements of Milton Keynes and Coventry to trial a fleet of 40 self-driving pods along with regular passenger vehicles equipped with autonomous and connected technology. Alongside this, the TSC is working closely with the Department for Transport (DfT) and other Government agencies in support of their plans to prepare for the introduction of these technologies. Part of this is through the Intelligent Mobility Planning, Action and Coordination Team (IM-pact UK). Chaired by the TSC, the group meet regularly to discuss ways of accelerating innovation in transport systems and intelligent mobility and is comprised of senior representatives across a wide range of industry influencers supported by officers from BIS and the DfT. The initial focus is on autonomous vehicles and the need to coordinate ICT, Telecommunications, Data and Infrastructure in order to facilitate their application on UK roads. These trials, along with many of the others set out in the evidence check, will focus primarily on the reliability and robustness of the technology involved, but they have also been designed to start addressing some other important questions, such as those concerning the insurance of self-driving vehicles, the changes in legislation required, the business models that could help bring self-driving vehicles to market, and the vital aspect of public education and how we ensure a safe and smooth transition from driven to driverless – especially in the likely future scenario where self-driving cars are sharing streets with conventionally driven vehicles. All of these areas (and possibly many that have not even yet been considered) will require rigorous, scientific validation – including the attempts to subvert and “hack” vehicular controls. In addition to the road-user benefits mentioned above, it must also be kept firmly in mind that automated vehicle technology presents a huge economic opportunity for the UK. The research strength of our leading universities, the world-leading excellence of our advanced automotive companies and facilities and the willingness of our authorities to create a beneficial regulatory environment for trials have all combined to put the UK in an excellent position to exploit this opportunity. Continued and increased investment will be necessary. While the creation of C-CAV and the Government’s £100 million investment in CAV research and development are certainly very welcome measures, it is perhaps worth setting that figure against the research proposed elsewhere in the world. Governmental and private investment being conducted in the US, China, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, Germany, Sweden and France are just some of the other countries who are taking this technology – and its societal and economic opportunities – seriously, and the UK clearly cannot afford to be complacent. As a final point, I would like to suggest that all our efforts to trial this technology and eventually bring it to market will only be truly successful if we do so while considering the bigger picture of “intelligent mobility” – defined as the smarter, more efficient and greener movement of people and goods. Self-driving vehicles are an exciting and attention grabbing technological development, but they will only reach their full potential if we can fit them seamlessly into a new way of thinking about transport that focuses on end-to-end journey requirements (rather than individual modes of transport), provides mobility as a service and, in the most basic terms, puts people first. This approach is not a “nice to have”, but rather an essential way of thinking about self-driving vehicles which will help us to design effective trials, educate both policy-makers and the general public, and ultimately create technology that benefits society as a whole.

Nick Reed

11 April 2016 at 17:56

The UK Government is pursuing an ambitious but critically important strategy in relation to connected and automated vehicles. There are highly significant technical developments under way in this area that have the potential to impact significantly on the way we transport people, goods and services. The UK has a range of highly relevant capabilities, facilities and industry stakeholders that can drive innovation in this area, leading to exploitable intellectual property that has worldwide relevance. TRL is an independent, impartial centre of excellence undertaking research and consultancy in all aspects of surface transportation. We have been working on vehicle automation and driver safety systems for over 60 years. We have been keen to participate in the programmes of research related to this area that are being coordinated through Innovate UK. We are involved in three projects through this mechanism, all of which are being delivered in Greenwich, London. TRL played a key role in bringing together three high quality consortia comprising research organisations, automotive companies, technology providers, mapping companies, insurance providers and a variety SMEs, all working together to undertake projects that will help advance the UK's position in this market. The multi-disciplinary nature of this work is uncommon but enables hugely powerful research to explore this opportunity. In addition to research funding, there are two other key aspects of the Government strategy that have been influential. The first is the work that the Department for Transport have undertaken to understand the regulations governing the testing of automated vehicles on UK roads and the subsequent development of a code of practice for that testing. This has put the UK in a highly respected position worldwide - other nations are copying this approach while vehicle manufacturers and technology providers appreciate the guidance on what is permissible that the code of practice provides. The second important strategic move has been the creation of C-CAV - the Centre for Connected Autonomous Vehicles, a single point of contact in Government for this domain. The creation of this team has provided strategic focus for the UK's approach, engaging with a broad range of stakeholders to establish where the UK's strengths lie with respect to addressing the key barriers to the development and deployment of automated vehicles. It has also brought wider awareness in Government of the significance that connected and automated vehicles could have on future transport and mobility policies. Associated with our involvement in the Innovate UK funded projects, TRL has launched a strategic collaboration with the Royal Borough of Greenwich - the creation of the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab (see: This is an open innovation testbed environment in which organisations can come together to test smart mobility concepts such as connected and automated vehicles in the real world, supported by TRL's research expertise and with access to the community of organisations involved in the projects being delivered in the borough. Our progress in creating the UK Smart Mobility Living Lab has been driven by our desire to work alongside the Government's strategy and to provide a fully independent real world urban test environment. This testbed will be critically important in accelerating the development and validation of automated vehicles - and therefore in attracting world class research and development activity (and jobs) to the UK. In conclusion, the Government has made good progress in applying a range of mechanisms to encourage innovation and development in the field of connected and automated vehicles. However, this is a long road and there is much work to be done. The Government must retain the focus it has shown to date, continue the funding regimes that have enabled successful, innovative research programmes to be created and always be mindful of the need to balance this against the wider and more immediate transport issues that remain. We look forward to contributing further on this exciting and important journey.

Neville Stanton

07 April 2016 at 16:51

The utopian vision of the motor vehicle will have an onboard auto-driver, similar to the autopilot in aircraft, take over the driving tasks allowing the human driver to work, rest or play. The catch is that, while car drivers are stripped of the need to perform driving tasks, they are still required to monitor their auto-driver and take manual control if the situation demands. However, when vehicles become fully autonomous, even the most observant human driver’s attention will begin to wane, it will be akin to watching paint dry. Their mind will wander, and they may start to undertake other tasks and mentally switch off from the job of driving. This is especially true if they are reading, answering emails and surfing the internet. How can this extra activity be reconciled with the need to keep an eye on the vehicle? The truth is, nobody really knows. I have been conducting research into vehicle automation for the past 20 years, and it is clear that drivers of automated vehicles are generally not as effective in emergency situations as drivers of manual vehicles. Up to a third of drivers of automated vehicles did not recover the situation in our simulator studies at the University of Southampton, and I have repeatedly witnessed the failure of drivers to intervene when systems fail in both driving simulators and test track studies. Whereas, almost all drivers of manual vehicles recover in the same situation. There is a concern that the driver and automated vehicle may become unsynchronised, for example if driver believes the automated vehicle has detected the presence of another vehicle when, in fact, it has not. Our research has shown that if we design the vehicle to provide continuous relevant feedback to the driver (analogous to a chatty co-driver), we can reduce this kind of error substantially, but not completely. We have found that drivers of automated vehicles take, on average, five times as long to respond to emergency braking when compared to manual drivers. Our research has also shown that if the driver is forced to continually monitor partial automation instead of driving manually, that this does not diminish their workload at all, and that they cannot sustain this monitoring for long periods of time. We have also observed that the attention of the driver decreases quite dramatically in fully automated vehicles. If the driver’s attention is needed suddenly, they are ill-prepared to take over control from the automated vehicle. So we may be asking for the impossible, taking away all of the control from the driver but leaving all of the accountability. Lessons from automation in aviation appear to be going unheeded. It seems drivers of the future will be held responsible for something they have no control over. This does not mean that vehicle automation should be halted. Quite the reverse: as the potential benefits to driving are substantial, the lessons need to be learned and applied from other domains, so that the advancement of vehicle automation can resolve these problems. The challenge of vehicle automation is upon us now, and groups like my driving automation research laboratory are rising to that challenge. We need to design vehicle automation to have graduated and gradual hand-over and hand-back tasks if it is to successfully support human drivers. Vehicle automation needs to work towards providing a chatty co-pilot not a silent auto-pilot.

Martyn Thomas

27 March 2016 at 20:56

The Government statement talks about "testing" but sets no criteria for what types and quantity of evidence will be required before an autonomous vehicle gets type approval. Testing can only provide very weak evidence for safety or security. A modern car contains 100 million lines of software. To test every possible path through this software would take an impractical amount of time, even if unlimited resources were made available. So how will safety and security be assured? There have already been demonstrations that connected vehicles can be hacked remotely, over their network connections, and that the hacker can them take control of the steering and brakes. What is the Government's solution to this threat? The testing that is being proposed will be under benign conditions. Will the Government provide an environment where experts can attempt to subvert the connected vehicle's controls or behaviour in any way they wish, with legal indemnity? Human behaviour will change if autonomous vehicles become common and trusted. As a small example, why would anyone bother to use a pedestrian crossing if all the oncoming vehicles can be trusted to stop if one steps into the road? There are many more such issues .....

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