Buyers' warned: There's no such thing as an 'autonomous' car
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The use of terms such as 'Autopilot' to market autonomous technology has come under scrutiny in the wake of reports that a growing number of people are crashing while over-relying on driver aid systems.
Thatcham Research, the UK's only insurer funded automotive research centre, and the Association of British Insurers (ABI) have made an urgent call to carmakers and legislators for greater clarity around the capability of vehicles sold with technology that aids motorists, but is not yet capable of driving independently.
Risks outlined in the ‘Assisted and Automated Driving Definition and Assessment’ paper identifies dangerous grey areas associated with driver support technologies like misleading names given to systems by carmakers (like 'Autopilot' or 'ProPilot') and how or when drivers should take back control as different systems are designed to work in specific situations only (e.g. on motorways) but can also function anywhere.
Matthew Avery, Head of Research at Thatcham Research said while technology is taking more ownership of driving, motorist may not be aware that they are still required act in problematic circumstances.
Thatcham warns that driver must always be in control. Photo / Thatcham
"We are starting to see real-life examples of the hazardous situations that occur when motorists expect the car to drive and function on its own," said Avery.
"Fully Automated vehicles that can own the driving task from A to B, with no need for driver involvement whatsoever, won’t be available for many years to come. Until then, drivers remain criminally liable for the safe use of their cars and as such, the capability of current road vehicle technologies must not be oversold.”
“It begins with how systems are named and described across carmaker marketing materials and the driver’s handbook. Names like Autopilot or ProPilot are deeply unhelpful, as they infer the car can do a lot more than it can. Absolute clarity is needed, to help drivers understand the when and how these technologies are designed to work and that they should always remain engaged in the driving task.”
“The next three years mark a critical period, as carmakers introduce new systems which appear to manage more and more of the driving task. These are not Autonomous systems. Our concern is that many are still in their infancy and are not as robust or as capable as they are declared to be."
To provide guidance to carmakers and legislators, Thatcham Research has drawn up a list of 10 key criteria that every should have before it can be called Automated.
Thatcham Research also outlined detail around a new consumer testing programme, designed to assess Assisted driving systems against the 10 criteria. An initial round of tests will take place in 2018 with six cars fitted with the latest driver assistance systems will be scrutinised. The results of all the tests will allow final grades to be generated for use by insurers and consumer organisations and will be by the end of 2018.
"We’ll be testing and evaluating these systems, to give consumers guidance on the limits of their performance. The ambition is to keep people safe and ensure that drivers do not cede more control over their vehicles than the manufacturer intended,” said Avery. “
How carmakers name Assisted systems will be a key focus – with any premature inference around Automated capabilities being marked down. Automated functions that allow the driver to do other things and let the car do the driving will come, just not yet”
Thatcham's 10 key features and performance criteria required of a truly automated vehicle:
1. Naming: clearly describes automated capability
2. Law abiding: complies with traffic laws and the Highway Code
3. Location specific: functionality is limited to specific types of roads or areas via geo-fencing
4. Clear handover: transfer of driving control follows a clear ‘offer and confirm’ process
5. Safe driving: vehicle can manage all reasonably expected situations by itself
6. Unanticipated handover: adequate and appropriate notice must be given if the vehicle needs to unexpectedly hand back driving control
7. Safe stop: vehicle executes an appropriate ‘safe stop’ if unable to continue or the driver does not take back control
8. Emergency intervention: vehicles can avoid or prevent an accident by responding to an emergency
9. Back-up systems: safeguards step in if any systems fail
10. Accident data: record and report what systems were in use at the time of an accident