Our editor is quite pleased with his new self-driving bus…

We’ve bought one of the world’s first self-driving buses… ok, it’s a 2019 Matchbox toy

Thanks to James Long of Smart Mobility Living Lab (SMLL) on Linkedin for alerting us to the fact that Matchbox have made a self-driving bus toy.

Well, it took a few days but I now own one! A yellow MN1212 from 2019 by designer Abe Lugo.

Cars of the Future editor Neil Kennet with his Matchbox self-driving bus
Cars of the Future editor Neil Kennet with his Matchbox self-driving bus

The website Matchbox Fandom tells us there are others. A blue and white version is reviewed here by BusBoy501 Productions on Youtube:

BusBoy501 Productions on Youtube reviews a Matchbox self-driving bus

Unfortunately, he considers it something of a disappointment in modelling terms. “I don’t really care for it,” he says, noting that it is not to the usual 1/64 scale.

He isn’t convinced about real-world deployment either, saying: “I don’t think this is something we’ll see in school transportation for quite some time, if ever.”

He should subscribe to our free Cars of the Future weekly newsletter!

Self-driving (sort of)

As a bonus, I just so happen to own a rather battered example of the first ever Matchbox model – 1953’s Coronation Coach with its team of eight horses.

So, just for fun, here’s the past and future of clean fuel transport:

Matchbox self-driving bus and 1953 Coronation Coach
Matchbox self-driving bus and 1953 Coronation Coach

Largest ever dataset to inform off-road self-driving vehicles.

Advanced self-driving lessons for future off-road robots

Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) School of Computer Science, in Pennsylvania, have created what is thought to be the largest ever dataset to inform off-road self-driving vehicles.

In stark contrast to safety-first city tests, the high-octane study involved ragging a Yamaha Viking All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) around a muddy, hilly test site near Pittsburgh.

Video: Carnegie Mellon University off-road testing for self-driving AI

A human driver guided the vehicle using a joystick and traditional braking, with the bumpy ride tracked by proprioceptive and exteroceptive sensors plus video.

The result was a dataset called TartanDrive consisting of 200,000 real-world off-road interactions covering individual wheel speeds and suspension shocks.

Self-driving scientists

Wenshan Wang, project scientist at the CMU Robotics Institute, commented: “Unlike autonomous street driving, off-road driving is more challenging because you have to understand the dynamics of the terrain in order to drive safely and to drive faster.”

Samuel Triest, a Master’s student in robotics and lead author of the team’s paper, added: “The dynamics of these systems tend to get more challenging as you add more speed.

“You drive faster, you bounce off more stuff. A lot of the data we were interested in gathering was this more aggressive driving, more challenging slopes and thicker vegetation because that’s where some of the simpler rules start breaking down.”

Over the years, many self-driving experts have predicted that “off-road applications might come firstthe logic being that private geofenced areas are more predictable environments.

This study is different, teaching AI to drive by pushing the boundaries of performance and safety in more extreme conditions.

China’s Google, Baidu, unveils a self-driving concept car ahead of a production model in the near future

Baidu’s JIDU unveils ROBO-01 self-driving concept car

When Baidu, the company frequently referred to as “China’s Google”, unveils a self-driving concept car ahead of a nearly-ready production model it deserves our attention, so here goes…

In January 2021, Baidu announced plans to establish an electric vehicle (EV) company and formed a strategic partnership with Chinese vehicle manufacturer (VM), Geely. The result was JIDU and on 8 June 2022 the new start-up unveiled the ROBO-01 concept car, which supports “high-level autonomous driving”.

Self-driving ROBO-01 video

JIDU ROBO-01 self-driving concept car video

JIDU’s CEO, Xia Yiping, commented: “The Intelligent Car 3.0 Era is the era of robocars. The transition to this new era is marked by the shift of driving power from humans to AI, with robocars ultimately achieving self-generating progress led by AI.

“The automotive industry in the 3.0 era will see a seismic shift from a revolution in energy to a revolution in product attributes. The ultimate goal is to realize a fully driverless transportation experience.”

JIDU ROBO-01 self-driving concept car
JIDU ROBO-01 self-driving concept car

The robocar was unveiled at an event branded Roboday, where digital human car owner Xijiajia interacted with ROBO-01.

JIDU ROBO-01 self-driving concept car side view
JIDU ROBO-01 self-driving concept car side view

The futuristic look involves a robot-like body with butterfly wing doors and an adjustable rear wing, while the interior features a large integrated screen, “swan neck” headrests and a foldaway U-shaped steering wheel – thus passing our Has it got a steering wheel? test.

The self-driving capabilities are enabled by the Baidu Apollo autonomous driving system, Nvidia‘s dual Orin X chips and 31 external sensors including two LiDAR, five millimeter-level wave radar, 12 ultrasonic radar and 12 cameras.

Self-driving production model

The aforementioned production model will be “90 percent similar” to the concept, sporting its futuristic designs and the U-shaped foldaway steering wheel.

The plan is apparently to prove the model in its home market first, targeting the 25-35 age group, and then go global.

Government pushes ahead with plan to list ALKS-equipped vehicles as self-driving.

Are you sure this is a good idea? Concern as UK Government pushes ahead with plan to list ALKS cars as self-driving

In May, the government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) announced a new £40m funding competition to “kick-start commercial self-driving services” in the UK.

Minister for Investment, Lord Grimstone, said: “Self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionise people’s lives, whether it’s by helping to better connect people who rely on public transport with jobs, local shops, and vital services, or by making it easier for those who have mobility issues to order and access services conveniently.”

The launch press release went on to quote the now familiar statistics that self-driving could be worth £42bn to the UK economy by 2035, potentially creating 38,000 new skilled jobs.

ALKS and self-driving

It also contained this eye-catching line: “The first vehicles to be listed as self-driving in the UK – vehicles approved under the Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) Regulation – could be available for people to purchase, lease or rent later this year.” Not everyone agrees with the approach or the timetable.

Matthew Avery, Director of Research at Thatcham, was quick to emphasise that there are currently no vehicles Type Approved for automated driving in the UK.

Matthew Avery of Thatcham on self-driving
Matthew Avery of Thatcham on self-driving

“We are signatories to the UN Type Approval mandate, so UK regulation will reflect the UN Type Approval requirements which come through Geneva,” he said. “Any vehicle that is Type Approved will also have to go through a GB approval process.

“It’s important to make sure, before a vehicle is added to the Secretary of State’s self-driving list, that it has been approved to be usable in the UK – that it can follow UK road laws, read UK road signs etc. The exact wording is being worked-up at the moment.

“There are a number of issues we feel are missed within the current UN regulation: 1) the ability of the vehicle to change lanes; 2) the ability of the vehicle to find safe harbour; and 3) the need for the vehicle to record data in every collision.

“However, amendments have been tabled to tackle these issues, which are likely to be signed-off in September and come in from January 2023. These include the ability to change lanes and find safe harbour, and also extend the speed range up to 81mph. These are all very sensible and meaningful additions which will improve usability.”

Insurers unconvinced

The picture is changing fast, but insurers aren’t yet convinced that ALKS-equipped vehicles should be described as self-driving.

Doug Jenkins, Motor Technical Risk Manager at AXA Insurance UK, said: “The government have set out the position – they want the UK to lead in this – but I am concerned that it could become confusing for the public when really autonomous vehicles come to the market.”

Indeed. Compare the headline-making Oxbotica AppliedEV – which in May became the first zero-occupancy, fully self-driving, electric vehicle to operate on public roads anywhere in Europe – with the new Mercedes S Class, BMW i7 or Volvo XC 90. They’re very different beasts.

Oxbotica self-driving vehicle

Interestingly, under the Scope section of the new funding competition, the government insists that “Terminology in your application must comply with the meanings as per BSI Flex 1890 v4.0:2022-03: Connected and automated vehicles – Vocabulary.”

Self-driving definition

Thanks to lead technical author Prof. Nick Reed, the recently updated BSI CAV Vocabulary features a handy new definition for self-driving: “Full function of the dynamic driving task (2.1.24), performed by the automated driving system (2.1.7) within its operational design domain (2.1.48)”.

Does ALKS meet the criteria? There are at least two big problems with the government’s current plan. First, as Jenkins alluded to, the conflation of assisted driving and self-driving risks drivers misunderstanding their car’s capabilities. That’s clearly dangerous.

Second, any approach which involves switching between a human driver and a highly automated car introduces the problematic moment of handover.

Dr Subhajit Basu, of The University of Leeds’ School of Law, has eloquently expressed the serious concerns shared by many experts.

“The main safety messages surround the extreme difficulty most drivers will encounter when an autonomous vehicle suddenly transfers the driving back to them,” he said. “Even if a driver responds quickly, they may not regain enough situational awareness to avoid an accident.”

Please note: a version of this article was first published by the Institute of the Motor Industry’s MotorPro magazine.

Since then, Mercedes-Benz has released details of the sales launch for Drive Pilot in Germany. The conditionally automated driving system can now be ordered as an optional extra for the S-Class for €5,000 and for the EQS for €7,430.

CAM APPG sets seven expert recommended red lines on UK self-driving.

Cross-party parliamentary group sets 7 self-driving red lines for new Transport Bill

Welcoming the Government’s commitment to include self-driving legislation in the Transport Bill, The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) has set out seven “expert recommended red lines”.

The seven points seem very sensible on the whole, covering many of the issues we regularly raise here at Cars of the Future, including the risk of confusing assisted and automated driving.

Self-driving red lines

In full, the CAM APPG’s seven red lines are: 

  1. Legislation must act as an enabler for the rollout of CAM technology, not a blocker. To achieve this, it will require a non-prescriptive and flexible regulatory framework that allows use cases to advance and innovate.
  2. A statutory definition of self-driving must be established to distinguish this technology from assisted driving.
  3. Clear lines of liability, accountability and responsibility for road safety must be established, in line with the Law Commission’s recommendations.
  4. Establish minimum standards for data sharing and handling to ensure transparency and effective governance are embedded throughout the process.
  5. Ensure the principle of interoperability is at the heart of the framework to realise the huge potential for the UK to export such a best-in-class regulatory model internationally.
  6. Introduce regulatory sandboxes to allow businesses to test innovative use cases in the market with real consumers.
  7. Develop a communications toolkit to accompany future legislation so that messaging can be easily disseminated to consumers to help assuage concerns around public acceptability.

Here’s our capsule review: The opening point, “Legislation must act as an enabler for the rollout of CAM technology, not a blocker” directly addresses the delicate balancing act the Government faces – facilitating these incredible cutting-edge technologies while prioritising safety and bringing the public on-board.   

Point two, we bang on endlessly about this potential pitfall – it will be vital to differentiate between assisted and automated driving.

Point three, also essential of course, and huge strides are already been made by the insurance industry in this regard.

Point four, delivering “transparency and effective governance” on data sharing might prove to be the hardest of the lot.

Point five, the UK is ahead of the game on interoperability – can we translate this into a commercial advantage?

Point six, are “regulatory sandboxes” a mechanism through which the Government can achieve the balancing act referred to in point one?

Point seven – the communications toolkit – apparently there’s a UK-based website not a million miles away with free weekly newsletters which is already on the case! 

Official comments

The APPG on CAM was set up with support from insurer AXA UK, law firm Burges Salmon and transport consultancy WSP. It is chaired by Ben Everitt, Conservative MP for Milton Keynes North, which makes sense given the area is one of the UK’s self-driving hotspots.

CAM APPG Chair Ben Everitt MP on self-driving
CAM APPG Chair Ben Everitt MP on self-driving

Ben Everitt MP said: “The CAM APPG was delighted to discuss how the upcoming Transport Bill can deliver the benefits of autonomous technology to local communities up and down the country.

“As we await the Government’s response to the Law Commission of England and Wales review into self- driving vehicles, and the call for evidence on the future of connected and automated mobility in the UK, the APPG will continue to advise on how we can build on the great progress made to date and ensure that the whole country is able to benefit from these innovative technologies.”

Dougie Barnett, Director of Customer Risk Management at AXA UK, said: “Self-driving technology could pave the way for safer roads, increased mobility and productivity and cleaner transport. However, alongside the legislation the Government must work with the industry to ensure there is no public confusion surrounding autonomous vehicles and place more emphasis on educating the public on how to use and interact with these vehicles safely.”

Giles Perkins, Head of Profession for Future Mobility at WSP, said: “The forthcoming Transport Bill promises to unlock the potential that autonomous mobility provides. We need to ensure the Bill acts as a catalyst to enable use cases and applications that really deliver benefits for people, communities and businesses. This must happen not only in our cities but the areas surrounding them and, importantly, rural geographies which often get overlooked.”

Lucy Pelger, Partner at Burges Salmon, said: “It’s vital that legislation is an enabler to self-driving technology. The right legislative framework will not only advance the UK’s position in the global CAM market but will importantly support in building the public’s trust and confidence in CAM technology. We look forward to the Government’s response to the Law Commissions’ recommendations.”

Likewise, we at Cars of the Future look forward to following the work of the CAM APPG in achieving these laudable aims.

On 9 June 2022, Westfield Sports Cars and its self-driving arm, Westfield Autonomous Vehicles, went into administration

Self-driving setback as Westfield Autonomous Vehicles falls into administration

In sad news for British motorsport and self-driving fans, on 9 June it emerged that Westfield Sports Cars and its subsidiary Westfield Autonomous Vehicles had both gone into administration.

Founded in 1983 and based in Kingswinford, near Birmingham, Westfield Sports Cars specialised in Lotus Seven inspired kit cars and was often compared to Caterham.

Westfield sports car
Westfield sports car

Westfield self-driving

Its diversification into self-driving was widely considered an astute move and it gained many plaudits for its involvement in the landmark GATEway Project in London,

In my 2018 article Autonomous Now, which led to the launch of Cars of the Future, I noted: “GATEway is entering its final phase, which will see a fleet of driverless pods providing a shuttle service around a 3.4km route on the Greenwich Peninsula.

Westfield self-driving pod in Greenwich 2018
Westfield self-driving pod in Greenwich 2018

“In a world first, members of the public are invited to take part in the research, by riding in or engaging with the pods and sharing their opinions.”

Supported by Innovate UK, Westfield went on to run a live commercial trial at Heathrow Airport Terminal 5. The future seemed bright.

Just prior to the Queen’s Speech, on 10 May, Westfield Technology Group CEO Julian Turner was one of the 17 major UK business representatives calling for the Government to announce primary legislation for automated vehicles (AVs).

A slightly bizarre last hurrah – if indeed this is the end – came a few weeks ago when the Westfield Pod featured on Grace’s Amazing Machines on BBC children’s channel CBeebies.

Westfield self-driving pod on CBeebies Grace's Amazing Machines
Westfield self-driving pod on CBeebies Grace’s Amazing Machines

For the record, presenter Grace Webb preferred it to the other two contenders – an electric bus and a ride-on lawnmower.

Distressed business listing service, Business Sale, reported that: “In its accounts for the year ending December 31 2021, Westfield Sports Cars reported fixed assets of close to £750,000 and current assets of slightly over £4 million. Less liabilities, the company’s net assets amounted to £1.179 million.

“Westfield Autonomous Vehicles, meanwhile, reported total assets of £1.4 million in its most recent accounts, but ended 2021 with net liabilities of close to £316,000.

“Despite the company’s demise, the assets set to be sold could represent a major opportunity for the right buyer, given their strong offering in the emerging self-driving electric vehicles sector and the niche kit car market.”

Autocar added: “Westfield had built up a solid reputation for creating interesting sports cars majoring on handling and horsepower rather than refinement.

“CEO Julian Turner also planned to push the autonomous pod side of the business, with the aim of turning Westfield into “the Boeing or Airbus of the automotive world”, selling these vehicles to fleet operators.

“Westfield Autonomous Vehicles created the Heathrow Pods that connect the Terminal 5 business parking to the main building and claims to have delivered “more fully autonomous vehicles than anyone else in the UK”.”

Self-driving assets

Mark Bowen of MB Insolvency was appointed as administrator on 9 June, but parent companies Westfield Technology Group and Potenza Enterprises don’t appear to be included.

Mark Bowen told the local media there had already been an “encouraging level of interest shown in the company’s remaining assets” and that MB Insolvency were “liaising with a number of parties at the moment to see if anybody is interested in the assets and possibly trying to resurrect something here.”

On 14 June, the counter on the Westfield Autonomous Vehicles website clocked a not insubstantial “9,983,709 Autonomous Kilometres” and “6,015,384 Passengers Driven”, and still rising.

Surely that should be of interest to someone.

New reports predict self-driving will massively boost the global LiDAR market, with Aeva’s Aeries 4D LiDAR highlighted.

Self-driving to super charge global LiDAR market to US$3bn+ within 5 years

Two new reports have highlighted self-driving as one of the main factors predicted to boost the global LiDAR market to at least US$3.4 billion a year by 2026.

According to Polaris Market Research, the global automotive LiDAR market is anticipated to reach US$4.14bn by 2026, increasing at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of more than 35%.

LiDAR for self-driving

The report summary noted: “The Automotive LiDAR market growth is attributed to the increasing demand of autonomous vehicles for active safety and self-driving. As advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicles are expected to witness growth at significant rates, it is expected to have a direct positive impact on the growth in the Automotive LiDAR market.

“These automated vehicles provide opportunities for a large number of firms to access a range of untapped facts, creating new revenue-generating opportunities, which will boost the market growth.

“The solid-state/flash LiDAR market is expected to grow at a very high pace during the forecast period. Solid state sensor being low-cost, robust, as well as compact in size makes it ideal for potential large-scale production of level 3 and level 4 cars in coming years. Further, mechanical sensors and other sensors also capture decent market share.”

Polaris highlight leading industry players including Scans, Velodyne LIDAR, Quanergy Systems, LeddarTech, First Sensor, Novariant, Delphi, Continental, Robert Bosch and Denso.

A separate report, by Markets And Markets, largely concurs with these findings, projecting that the LiDAR market will grow at a CAGR of 21.6% from 2021 to 2026 to reach US$3.4 billion by 2026.

LiDAR for UAVs

However, it focuses more on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – drones – and 4D LiDAR specifically.

“The rising adoption of LiDAR systems in UAVs, increasing adoption of LiDAR in engineering and construction applications, use of LiDAR in geographical information systems (GIS) applications, the emergence of 4D LiDAR, and easing of regulations related to the use of commercial drones in different applications are among the factors driving the growth of the LiDAR market,” it says.

“However, safety threats related to UAVs and autonomous cars and the easy availability of low-cost and lightweight photogrammetry systems are restraining the growth of the market.

“The market for 4D LiDAR is projected to grow at the highest CAGR from 2021 to 2026. This growth is attributed to the high adoption of 4D LiDAR in applications such as self-driving cars, robots, and other autonomous systems.

“Apart from automobiles, 4D LiDAR has applications in the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry, entertainment, and AR/VR. Some of the major companies offering 4D LiDAR are Aeva and TetraVue.”

In March, sensing systems developer Aeva announced that its Aeries 4D LiDAR sensors are now supported on the Nvidia Drive autonomous vehicle platform.

As well as measuring distance and plotting the position of objects in x, y and z, Aeva’s 4D-LiDAR plots velocity as a fourth dimension.

Aeva CEO Soroush Salehian on self-driving
Aeva CEO Soroush Salehian on self-driving

Soroush Salehian, Co-Founder and CEO at Aeva (formerly of Apple’s Special Projects Group), said: “Bringing Aeva’s next generation 4D LiDAR to the Nvidia Drive platform is a leap forward for OEMs building the next generation of Level 3 and Level 4 autonomous vehicles.

“We believe Aeva’s sensors deliver superior capabilities that allow for autonomy in a broader operational design domain (ODD), and our unique features like Ultra Resolution surpass the sensing and perception capabilities of legacy sensors to help accelerate the realization of safe autonomous driving.”

Gary Hicok, Senior Vice President of Engineering at Nvidia, added: “Aeva delivers a unique advantage for perception in automated vehicles because it leverages per-point instant velocity information to detect and classify objects with higher confidence across longer ranges.

“With Aeva as part of our Drive ecosystem network, we can provide customers access to this next generation of sensing capabilities for safe autonomous driving.”

Leading voice on US self-driving policy Latta namechecks China, Japan and Germany as self-driving leaders. No UK?

The UK is a global leader in self-driving. Someone please tell Bob Latta.

The race for global leadership in self-driving is well underway, but there are worrying signs that the UK’s recent achievements are going unrecognised.

Last week, a senior voice on US autonomous vehicle (AV) policy, Bob Latta – the Republican leader of the Communications and Technology Subcommittee – wrote an opinion piece for The Hill, including the line: “Unfortunately, the lack of a federal AV framework threatens U.S. leadership on this issue and empowers countries like China, Japan and Germany to take the lead.”

Leading voice on self-driving policy, Bob Latta
Leading voice on self-driving policy, Bob Latta

So, for this big hitter at least, the UK apparently doesn’t spring to mind when it comes to self-driving.

Latta continued: “If Congress fails to act, other countries will step in and dictate the future of AV technology. We cannot allow this to happen. For the United States to be the driver of cutting-edge technology, we need a framework that allows the industry to innovate while ensuring high safety standards. To maintain our leadership in the world, Congress must avoid shortsightedness, look over the horizon and pass the Self Drive Act.”

There are certainly parallels with the debate on this side of the pond. In May, the government’s Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) announced a new £40m funding competition to kick-start commercial self-driving services in the UK.

The launch press release contained this eye-catching line: “The first vehicles to be listed as self-driving in the UK – vehicles approved under the Automated Lane Keeping System (ALKS) Regulation – could be available for people to purchase, lease or rent later this year.”

Not everyone agrees with the approach or the timetable, so the government has a tricky balancing act to perform.

Back in 2018, then Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, commented: “Low carbon and self-driving vehicles are the future and they are going to drive forward a global revolution in mobility. This revolution has the potential to be worth £52bn to our economy by 2035, and the opportunity to be at the forefront of this change is one we cannot afford to miss.”

Self-driving readiness

At the time, we were fifth in KPMG’s Autonomous Vehicles Readiness Index (AVRI), judged against four pillars – policy and legislation, technology and innovation, infrastructure, and consumer acceptance.

By 2019, we had slipped to seventh, behind The Netherlands, Singapore, Norway, the US, Sweden and Finland, just ahead of Germany in eighth. 

By 2020, we were down to 9th in the KPMG ranking, having been overtaken by South Korea and the United Arab Emirates, with Germany slipping to 14th.

KPMG re self-driving readiness 2020
KPMG re self-driving readiness 2020

Germany have upped their game since, with 13,000km of motorway approved for conditionally automated driving and Mercedes-Benz announcing that it will accept legal responsibility for accidents caused by its Drive Pilot system.

Let’s remind ourselves of the three countries namechecked by Bob Latta: China, Japan and Germany. According to the latest KPMG ranking those three placed 20th, 11th and 14th respectively.

UK self-driving

The self-driving industry is evolving at lightning-fast speed and the UK is still very much in the vanguard.

Just last month, Oxbotica ran the first zero-occupancy, fully self-driving, electric vehicle on publicly accessible roads anywhere in Europe.

Oxbotica European self-driving 1st

Lord Grimstone, Minister of State for Investment, said: “This exciting development will further strengthen the UK’s reputation as a leading destination to develop and deploy self-driving vehicles, as well as helping grow a sector that will support highly-skilled jobs across the country.”

Then there’s Project Encode, which recently demonstrated transfer of control across three states – manual driving, autonomous driving and teleoperation – in live vehicle tests in Oxford and London.

And CAVForth, with its landmark two-week trial of a Level 4 automated bus in Scotland. The list goes on.

However, if Bob Latta’s comment is anything to go by, we clearly need to do more to highlight these successes on the international stage.

RAC Foundation director Steve Gooding, a member of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles’ expert advisory board, talks Highway Code, ALKS and self-driving

Self-driving cars? Think like Parker from Thunderbirds advises RAC Foundation’s Gooding

In this exclusive interview with Cars of the Future, RAC Foundation director Steve Gooding brings much-needed pragmatism to the UK self-driving debate.

We contacted Gooding after he was quoted in the government statement setting out changes to the Highway Code to move Britain “closer to a self-driving revolution”. Yes, the one that triggered national media meltdown, including Clarkson’s memorable “Driverless cars are pointless – and they have built-in instructions to kill you” headline in The Sun.

Fortunately, Gooding is far more level-headed. Fully aware that strong winds of change are blowing through the motor industry, he meets the prospect of connected and automated mobility (CAM) with down to earth opinion based on solid experience.

Assisted or automated?

We started by asking him about the danger of people confusing assisted and automated driving, given his widely reported comment that the Highway Code changes “will help us all understand what we must and must not do as we move forward to an environment where cars drive themselves”. Here’s what he said…

“The guts of the matter are, if you’re in a vehicle that is so highly automated that you don’t need to be involved in controlling it – like you’re sitting on a train – then it shouldn’t be a problem. You can get your phone out and catch up on your emails, flip open your laptop and start to write the next great American novel, or you can fall asleep. None of those things particularly matter until you arrive at your destination. Hopefully you’ll wake up in time to get off at the right stop.

“There’s a direct parallel there with automated driving in a private car. The vehicle needs to be designed and the technology needs to work so that it gets to a place of genuine safety, ideally where you want to be and not some point in the far distance. My wife didn’t appreciate my call to suggest she came to pick me up at the far end of our railway line when I fell asleep after a long day in the office, nor would you want your highly automated car to trundle on past your motorway exit while you snoozed the miles away.

“I think there’s an issue here and I worry about the stance that the auto industry has taken on it; if you tell me the vehicle is driving itself, it better had be. We know that with the most advanced driver-assist technologies you might not be doing much of the driving task, but you are still in control with your hands on the wheel. But what if you’re only required to be able to retake control, and to be able to do so at a moment’s notice?

“I wouldn’t point the finger at any particular manufacturer, but I can think of one whose vehicles are able to sense whether you’ve been holding the steering wheel. But if you go to any of the social media video channels you can look at how some people have chosen to fool these systems. When the vehicle doesn’t even require that much interaction from the ‘driver’ then how distracted, bored or just plain fast asleep do you think drivers, particularly on long motorway trips, will be?

“We also need to get away from the mindset some people still have that the motorway is a racetrack, with 70mph (or more) as a target rather than a maximum speed. I’ve talked with lots of people who are great fans of the latest highly automated driver-assist systems, because they do long journeys and find it more relaxing to use adaptive cruise control and lane-assist to help them waft along comfortably somewhere between 60 and 70mph. The mindset is much more like being on a train, coach or bus. However much you might wish it would get a move on, it’s only going to go as fast as the driver judges to be safe, taking account of the speed at which other traffic is moving.

“Hence I draw a sharp distinction here – and we’re all going have to start getting our heads around it, no matter how sceptical some of us were in the first place – between advanced driver-assistance and genuine automation. It’s often described as a continuum but I think that in reality there’s a massive step-change. And it’s not just a change that affects the people who’ve opted in to the automated vehicle.

Self-driving mode

“Imagine, in the relatively near future you might be driving along a motorway and a car goes past you with the person in the driving seat apparently fast asleep or reading a broadsheet newspaper. You might think ‘What’s that idiot doing?’ and maybe sound your horn. You might think, ‘Good grief, there’s going to be a crash, I’d better call the police’. It’s a world that could happen relatively soon – the people in those vehicles aren’t being irresponsible, they’re just in cars that are driving themselves – but in the early days they are likely to be in quite a small minority.

“While some thought has been given to it I don’t think we’ve really got to the point of being able to say what, if any, indication there needs to be from the vehicle to other road users to indicate that it is operating in self-driving mode, maybe ‘Don’t panic, there is control here, this vehicle isn’t run away’. I think it’s probably sensible for the vehicle to give people some sign. That said, in slow moving city situations I’m conscious of the risk that automated vehicles might find it very hard to make progress if pedestrians all decide to take priority.

“If we went back two or three years I suspect we’d be having a conversation about crisis moments where the automated vehicle couldn’t cope. What I’ve been saying consistently is that the vehicle has to be designed to cope with crisis moments, because humans don’t snap back into control very well at no notice. My plea to the designers is for pity’s sake don’t make the human the failsafe – we’re arguably the weakest link in the drivetrain – and that just doesn’t feel safe to me.”

Highway Code changes

We then went on to talk about the (mis)interpretation of the Highway Code changes, with the implication that automated vehicles might literally be just around the corner.

Gooding’s view was that it is forgivable for people to get the wrong end of the stick (including the idea that propping a 42” widescreen TV on the dashboard would be OK to keep up to date with Love Island or Strictly while the car drives itself), but that this of itself doesn’t mean that the Department for Transport (DfT) should hold off trailing the changes that automation will bring. A long lead time should help ensure that people are prepared.

“The first incarnation of driverless technology that appears to be headed our way is the automated lane keeping system (ALKS),” he said. “That’s the technology that’s closest to market and closest to deployment in this country.

“ALKS is cleared at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UN ECE) level for traffic moving at no more than 37mph. It enables the vehicle to speed up and slow down and stay within a defined lane on a motorway. The insurance industry has voiced concern about the fact that under this system the vehicle can’t change lanes. I think there’s some further head scratching going on at the DfT about that.

Genuine self-driving

“Of course ALKS is some way short of genuine self-driving – but one might imagine a button by which, in the same way that I could trigger adaptive cruise control whilst on a motorway, I could go one step further and trigger a system that would take me on to a certain junction, within the legal speed limit, anticipating the traffic ahead, steering and braking if necessary. How are we going to feel about that? My point is, let’s start that conversation now.

“Imagine you’re in a supermarket car park and someone has parked too close for you to open your door. Wouldn’t it be handy if you could summon the car? Indeed, if it was pouring with rain, wouldn’t it be good if you could just stay under the canopy and summon your car?

“Other shoppers struggling back to their cars with their shopping bags might be quite shocked to suddenly see a car coming towards them that appears to have nobody in it. It’s not science fiction anymore. We need to move the conversation on, to start gearing people up for the thought that this is going to happen, and soon.

“What if you summon your car from the far end of the car park but it never gets to you because there’s a constant stream of pedestrians in the way, or because children decide it’d be hilarious to stand in front it just to make it wait? How’s that to be handled? I think that’s one of the great imponderables for having automated systems in more built-up areas.

“I’m not convinced that I will be driven by a car in a UK city street. I hear a lot about the challenges of the urban environment in America, but jaywalking is illegal in the States. There are parts of this country where you’d assume jaywalking was a moral obligation! But by contrast I’ve long thought that I will be driven by a car on a motorway in my lifetime – within the next 20-30 years (with a bit of luck).”

The RAC Foundation’s role

Talk turned to the RAC Foundation’s role in all this.

“Probably the most important thing we’re doing is by virtue of the fact that I’m a member of the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles’ expert advisory board,” said Gooding. “It’s a very broad-ranging group of people who are genuinely world-leading experts in their fields, for whom the question is not just “What’s needed to make you safe?” but “What’s needed to make you feel safe?”, which is subtly different.

“One of the things we know from past studies of traffic is that you don’t have to get everybody on the road to drive more smoothly and safely. If you get a proportion to do so, it has a calming and beneficial effect on all the rest.

“I don’t like sideways G-forces when I’m being driven. I can think of no higher praise for an automated system that to compare it to the driving of my great cousin William, who was a professional chauffeur. He could do a three-point turn in a stretch limo and if you were sitting in the back holding a drink you wouldn’t spill a drop. That’s the standard of driving we want from an automated system – that of a highly proficient chauffeur, like Parker from Thunderbirds who’d have been mortified if his driving caused Lady Penelope to spill her champagne down her frock.”

Excellent, that’s the headline sorted.

He continued: “There are two issues with the Highway Code. One is that nobody expects to return to it after they pass their driving test. I passed mine before Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, and there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then. The second issue is that changes to the Highway Code tend to come in fits and starts. In the last year, there have been a few really significant changes, first relating to the hierarchy of vulnerability and the way we should approach junctions, and now about highly automated technologies.

“Some of the work we’re doing at the RAC Foundation is about bringing such changes to people’s attention – informing them there’s been a change they ought to know about. Probably the best we can do in that regard is to get as much coverage in the mainstream and motoring media as we can. We need people to be saying to their friends: ‘Did you see the change to the Highway Code?’”

Personal car ownership

We were wrapping up now, but there was still time for Gooding to give a convincing, perhaps controversial, opinion on the future of personal car ownership.

“I see no evidence that mobility as a service (MAAS) is coming anytime soon,” he said. “The full-on version of MAAS requires a ‘ring-master’ – a system integrator – that is modally agnostic, and therefore able to offer you the full selection of travel options, prices and booking options. Such a system isn’t going to spring into existence all by itself. The nearest thing to it that I’ve seen so far is the Transport for London (TfL) website, and I don’t see TfL volunteering travel by private car as one of its options.

“Imagine you’re a car buyer looking in the £15,000 bracket. You’ve decided which model you want, which spec, which colour. Are you going to ditch all those bespoke choices and the convenience of knowing the vehicle is at your personal beck-and-call because you’re going to be able to summon a self-driving vehicle? With those, you won’t really care what it looks like, so long as it’s been cleaned since the last person travelled in it. I just feel we’re going to need an awful lot of self-driving vehicles and an awful lot of cleaning products for that future to be viable in the sort of street where I live.”

All that look less than half an hour. Amazing eh? Personally, I feel reassured knowing that Gooding has the ear of government. He’s a motoring man embracing self-driving, and he’ll help the UK get there more safely.

Despite criticism following another blue light incident, Cruise gets permit to charge for self-driving rides in its home city of San Francisco.

Self-driving 1st: Cruise wins permit to charge in San Francisco

On Thursday 2 June, as the UK began four days of festivities to mark The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, General Motors’ Cruise was celebrating the award of a permit to charge for self-driving car journeys in its home city of San Francisco.

The California Public Utilities Commission approved Cruise’s application in a unanimous 4-0 vote, with the company immediately announcing that paid services would launch within weeks.

Up to 30 Chevrolet Bolt automated electric vehicles (A-EVs) will be limited to a maximum of 30mph, and they still won’t be allowed on highways or used during periods of heavy rain.

Big moment for self-driving

It is a big moment for Cruise with San Francisco considered a harder technical challenge than Phoenix, where rival operator Alphabet has been charging for rides.

Cruise self-driving the iconic streets of San Francisco
Cruise self-driving the iconic streets of San Francisco

In April, we looked at its success in our article “Bullitt was peak 20th century, self-driving is sensational San Francisco today”, but it hasn’t always been plain sailing.

For example, this video of a police stop – “Ain’t nobody in it!” – went viral. With comic timing, when the officer turns his back, the car drives off, pulling over again on the other side of an intersection, with the police car in pursuit, lights flashing.

Just days before securing the permit, Cruise came in for more criticism following another blue light incident.

Self-driving blue light incident

This time a fire engine on a 4am shout was briefly delayed, although a garbage truck was apparently the main cause of the blockage.

Highways News reported: “A Cruise vehicle with nobody in it was moving in the oncoming lane. According to Cruise, their vehicle detected the fire truck and as it is programmed to do, pulled to the right and stopped (avoiding blocking any intersection) and summoned remote assistance. However the oncoming lane was not wide enough for the fire engine to pass, so the truck driver got into that vehicle and got it out of the way. The report says the fire engine was delayed only 25 seconds.”

It meant more negative headlines though, such as “Concern Caused After San Francisco (CA) Fire Truck Blocked by Autonomous Car” in Fire Apparatus Magazine.

Official comment

Despite these setbacks, the permit was awarded and Cruise’s Chief Operating Officer, Gil West (formerly COO at Delta Air Lines), was quick to post an upbeat blog titled “We’re going commercial”.

“Today, we received the first-ever Driverless Deployment Permit granted by the California Public Utilities Commission, which allows us to charge a fare for the driverless rides we are providing to members of the public here in San Francisco,” he said.

“This means that Cruise will be the first and only company to operate a commercial, driverless ridehail service in a major U.S. city.

“Now with this approval, we’ll begin rolling out fared rides gradually, expanding in alignment with the smoothest customer experience possible. As always, our focus is on delivering a magical and safe service for our riders.

“Crossing the threshold into commercial operations isn’t just big news for Cruise alone. It is a major milestone for the shared mission of the AV industry to improve life in our cities. And it’s a giant leap for our mission here at Cruise to save lives, help save the planet, and save people time and money. 

“We’re grateful to the CPUC for their thoughtful review and approval of our application, and we’ll continue our close coordination with regulators and community stakeholders as we expand our service and improve our product.

“Collaborating closely with the communities we serve will only become more important as we continue to deploy this transformative technology.

“Thank you to each and every Cruiser whose focus and dedication is bringing our vision for the future to life — here and now. And thank you to every San Franciscan who has taken a ride with us, provided feedback, and helped us on our mission to continuously improve our service.”