The House of Lords Science and Technology committee has released its in-depth report on the current status of autonomous vehicle technology, with recommendations to take the UK forward as a world leader.
The committee took extensive written and oral evidence in autumn 2016. Our contribution to the debate can be seen here.
The report’s main conclusions are:
- Too much focus on driverless cars: The Government should focus less on private cars and broaden out its thinking to applications such as marine and agriculture, where quick wins can be made.
- Government coordination of input from key stakeholders: A coordinated strategy should be developed by pressing ahead with the planned Robotics and Autonomous Systems (RAS) leadership council drawn from Government, industry and academia. The work of both the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and Innovate UK is recognised but this needs to be widened and built upon.
- Government should commission research in areas not addressed by industry: Further social and economic research is needed to examine the responses of not only drivers but also other road users to increasing autonomy. The committee challenges the benefits of a level of automation at which a driver takes back control of a vehicle in an emergency, recognising that driver reactions are unlikely to be fast and effective enough in these circumstances.
- Action is needed now: Vehicle R&D can be left to industry the Government’s role is crucial. Targeted R&D in areas such as robotics, a comprehensive road testing offer in urban and rural environments, and future-proof infrastructure should be developed to maximise the potential benefits of autonomy.
The report highlights many potential advantages that autonomy has to offer; improved safety, greater fuel economy, mobility for the disabled, reduced congestion to name a few. Although the evidence supporting these is patchy and needs strengthening with further research.
There are also risks. We welcome the report’s warning about the dangers of relying on driver intervention in an emergency with highly automated vehicles. This is an issue we have highlighted for some time, for example in our article on autonomous critical event control published in February 2016. The six levels of driving automation identified by the Society of Automotive Engineers exposes drivers at Level 3 to unreasonable expectations of attentiveness and skill. This, together with the mixed fleet likely to exist while take-up of autonomous technology evolves, are identified as key points of safety risk.
Other important areas of risk are personal data misuse and hacking. The report calls for closer liaison with the Information Commissioner’s Office on data collection and use, and with the National Cyber Security Centre on cybersecurity.
The committee has done a great job at pulling together a broad range of views and information to reflect the widest possible picture of autonomous vehicles in the UK today. Their recommendations may not all find favour with Government, or fit neatly with the recently published Industrial Strategy green paper.
But the report as a whole offers some great pointers and advice for those tasked with developing and implementing policy in this fast-moving field.