If You Build It, Will They Come?

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What if the automotive industry builds autonomous vehicles and no one wants them?  What if no one trusts them well enough to want to own one or ride in one?  This is precisely what was addressed at the recent World Congress Experience.  The lack of regulations, be they national, state, regional or local is definitely a hindrance to the adoption of a more autonomous future.

Even if regulations get drafted here and there, they may not be consistent from location to location.  This can be as bad as not having regulations at all.  Developing and manufacturing a vehicle that will adhere to regulations in one county while not meeting them in another state is not cost effective.  In fact, it is likely cost prohibitive.

How and when regulations should be drafted is not necessarily an easy question to answer.  Write regulations too early, and they may not address the vehicles that actually end up on the street.  Write regulations too late, and a variety of “standards” may already be in production or in people’s hands.

To help move the industry in a common direction, SAE International has established the Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium.  This Consortium, joined by Ford, GM and Toyota, will:

work to help safely advance the testing, precompetitive development, and deployment of SAE Level 4 and 5 automated vehicles. The AVSC will provide a safety framework around which autonomous technology can responsibly evolve in advance of broad deployment, ultimately helping to inform and accelerate the development of industry standards for autonomous vehicles (AVs) and harmonize with efforts of other consortia and standards bodies.

The consortium will leverage the expertise of current and future members to establish a set of AV safety guiding principles to help inform standards development. The first output from the AVSC will be a roadmap of priorities, applicable to developers, manufacturers, and integrators of automated vehicle technology and focusing on data sharing, vehicle interaction with other road users, and safe testing guidelines.

These are lofty goals and might help lead the industry in the right direction.  It would allow the industry to take a step toward self-regulation or at least toward taking an active role in writing the rules by which the industry would have to play.  Having the industry so involved is certainly a good idea.  Adding other stakeholders may further benefit the industry to get a broad perspective on the issues that it will face.

The Autonomous future seems to inch closer every day.  But we are still a long way from seeing what it will look like.  We are equally far from knowing if people will fully embrace this new technology, especially if they lack the confidence in its safety and efficacy.

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