Here at Cars of the Future we like to keep an eye on global self-driving media coverage – that’s how we find the hyperbolic headlines – so naturally we watched this Voice of America (VOA) news report:
In it, Cheng Lu, Advisor to TuSimple CEO Dr Xiaodi Hou, and Don Burnette, Co-Founder & CEO of Kodiak Robotics, go into bat for autonomous trucking, while Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and economic sociologist Steve Viscelli, author of The Big Rig: Trucking and the Decline of the American Dream, provide cautionary commentary, if not overt opposition.
While Lu and Burnette sell the benefits and share their progress – we’ll come to that in a minute – Chase points out: “We’re the ones on the roads with these vehicles and the public right now is an unwitting participant in a very high tech science experiment.”
Viscelli adds: “I’d say all drivers are concerned about the future of those jobs. They’re not yet convinced of the potential for really upskilling your job.”
As an aside, here’s a fact: Voice of America is apparently the largest and oldest US-funded international broadcaster.
A quick visit to the TuSimple website reveals that it coined the term.
“TuSimple became the first and only company to autonomously operate heavy-duty trucks on open public roads with no humans in the vehicle, no remote control, and no human intervention of any kind,” it says. “TuSimple calls these, ‘Driver Out’ runs.”
Earlier this year, the California-based trucking company announced that Union Pacific Railroad will be the first to move freight on its fully automated trucking route between Tucson and Phoenix, following a test run on a similar route in December.
“At TuSimple, our mission is to automate certain routes that make the most sense to automate — and those are longhaul applications, the ones that have greater distance, a lot of repetition,” Lu told Transport Topics.
“It frees up valuable driver resources and valuable freight capacity to other parts of the logistics network — first-mile, last-mile, stuff it doesn’t make sense to automate.”
In March, the company posted this video to YouTube:
Titled “Advanced capabilities of driver out autonomous driving system”, it shows the TuSimple autonomous trucks changing lanes and carefully avoiding other vehicles, including motorcycles.
Meanwhile, on 12 May, Kodiak posted this video of its truck performing a staged “fallback”, autonomously pulling to the side of the road after a pre-planned wire-cut:
Kodiak has been delivering freight daily between Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston, operating autonomously on the highway section of the route, for over a year now.
Ten times each second, the company’s self-driving system evaluates the performance of more than 1,000 safety-critical processes and components in both the self-driving stack and the underlying truck platform.
“It’s essential that the self-driving technology powering an 80,000-pound semi-truck is capable of reacting swiftly and safely, no matter what happens,” said Burnette.
“Kodiak’s autonomous trucks are constantly monitoring themselves and preparing to pull over in case of a fault, just like a human would.
“Implementing a fallback system is a fundamental necessity to achieving that level of safety and we are the first autonomous trucking company to demonstrate this capability on public roads.
“We have integrated fallback technology into the Kodiak Driver’s architecture from the beginning – it would be incredibly hard to add this capability as an afterthought.”
Kodiak and TuSimple – both in the vanguard of the fast-growing self-driving freight industry, and therefore in the eye of the media storm – also appear to be in competition for the best ‘truck on a bridge’ photo.
We think TuSimple just edge it on that score, but the big self-driving winners are yet to be decided.
Get your grant application in! UK government announces £40m funding for commercial self-driving projects
Run by the Centre for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) – the government unit tasked with shaping the safe and secure emergence of connected and self-driving vehicles in the UK – the competition aims to bring together companies and investors so that sustainable business models can be rolled out nationally and exported globally.
The types of self-driving vehicles that could be deployed include delivery vans, passenger buses, shuttles and pods, as well as those for airports and shipping ports.
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.
“This funding will help unlock the incredible potential of this new and growing industry, building on the continued development of self-driving technology, attracting investment and helping make our transport cleaner, safer and more efficient.”
Regular readers will note that this is the second high profile self-driving comment by Lord Grimstone this week, following his praise for Oxbotica’s landmark self-driving success of running a zero-occupancy vehicle on UK roads.
Transport Minister, Trudy Harrison, added: “We know that self-driving vehicles have the potential to revolutionise the way we travel, making our future journeys cleaner, easier and more reliable. But our absolute priority is harnessing the technology to improve road safety.
“With around 88% of road collisions currently caused by human error, this funding will drive the introduction of new technology to improve travel for all, while boosting economic growth and highly skilled jobs across the nation.”
Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders Chief Executive, Mike Hawes, was also quoted in the official competition launch press release, saying: “Self-driving vehicles offer major benefits to society – improving road safety, supporting new jobs and economic growth, and enabling greater mobility for everyone – so the UK is rightly seeking to be at the forefront of this technological evolution.
“Recent regulatory reforms have helped Britain establish itself as a leader in the rollout out of self-driving passenger vehicles, and today’s announcement is a significant step towards self-driving public transport and goods delivery services becoming a reality.
“This new funding competition will help drive innovation and, potentially, private investment in UK automotive, ensuring cutting-edge self-driving technology finds a clearer path to UK roads.”
The statement went on to trot out the now familiar lines that self-driving “could be worth £42bn to the UK economy by 2035… potentially creating 38,000 new skilled jobs”.
However, deeper into the announcement came more interesting nuggets: £1.5m of the funding will be used to study using self-driving vehicles as an alternative to mass transit systems, for example, instead of new railway lines or bus routes.
Although there was no mention of it in the actual speech, unlike rail, the competition launch also included this eye-catching line: “The government announced a Transport Bill in the recent Queen’s Speech that will introduce comprehensive legislation for self-driving vehicles to enable safe and responsible deployment.”
Slightly worryingly, it went on to confirm that: “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.”
We get tired of saying it, but the continuing conflation of assisted driving and self-driving really isn’t helpful.
To be fair, the “notes to editors” section did reiterate that “Currently, there are no vehicles approved for self-driving on Britain’s roads meaning drivers must always remain in control of the vehicle.”
Further headline stats included:
In 2035, 80% of Britain’s jobs relating to CAV technology production are estimated to be in software-related industries. The remaining 20% would be in the production of CAV hardware, such as sensors.
Over 90% of the jobs created in developing CAV software and over 80% of the jobs relating to the manufacture of CAV hardware are expected to be in professional, technical and skilled trade occupations.
The SMMT estimates that self-driving vehicles could save 3,900 lives and prevent 47,000 serious accidents by 2030.
The Connected Places Catapult forecasts that, by 2035, 40% of new UK car sales could have self-driving capabilities, with a total market value of £41.7bn.
Key To UK Self-driving
The Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility competition officially opened on 23 May 2022, the day before a CCAV, Innovate UK, Innovate UK KTN and Zenzic industry engagement event at the National Digital Exploitation Centre in Ebbw Vale, Wales.
On 20 May 2022, Oxford-based autonomous vehicle software specialist, Oxbotica, announced a landmark success – the first zero-occupancy, fully self-driving, electric vehicle on publicly accessible roads anywhere in Europe.
The sensational road test, conducted in Oxford earlier this month, was praised by Lord Grimstone of Boscobel, Minister of State for Investment jointly at the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS), formerly Gerry Grimstone, chairman of Barclays Bank.
“Oxbotica’s completion of Europe’s first zero-occupancy self-driving vehicle journey on the road is testament to the UK’s world class automotive sector,” he 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.”
Self-driving European 1st
In a video detailing the achievement, Oxbotica founder & CTO, Paul Newman, explained: “Today, we ran an autonomous vehicle with no driver on open roads in the UK for the first time. It’s a great moment for this business and for the ecology of driverless vehicle technology in the UK.”
The peculiar-looking all-electric AppliedEV boasts radar vision, laser-based sensors and the Oxbotica Driver System, but what is more striking is what it doesn’t have – doors, windows, seats, pedals or a steering wheel.
Instead, it features an array of self-driving tech mounted on a small pylon fixed to the centre of the chassis.
The Oxbotica Driver software provides the vehicle with a rich understanding of its surroundings, with multiple Artificial Intelligence (AI) continuously checking decisions.
Coming hot on the heels of its strategic partnership agreement with NEVS, Oxbotica says the successful trial sets a new benchmark for safety standards in autonomous vehicle (AV) testing, as well as marking “the next step in commercialising AV technology”.
Newman continued: “Oxbotica is changing the way people and goods move. Our goal is to be indistinguishable from perfect on safety, and this achievement, alongside our partners, is proof of that. It’s a historic moment for the UK, the transport and logistics sector, and autonomous vehicle technology.”
The plan is to deploy a goods delivery variant for grocery business Ocado as early as next year (2023).
Alex Harvey, Chief of Advanced Technology at Ocado Technology, said: “This is a fantastic milestone and we are delighted to see Oxbotica making significant progress towards zero-occupancy goods deliveries.
“We continue to collaborate closely with Oxbotica and are excited about providing this transformational capability to Ocado Smart Platform (OSP) partners at the earliest possible opportunity.”
The successful on-road trial, conducted in line with the UK Code of Practice 2019, and BSI’s PAS 1881:2020 and PAS 1883:2020 standards, also represents important progress for insurance solutions as part of the UK’s evolving mobility network.
The insurance was arranged by broker Marsh and created by Apollo Group’s Insuring Businesses Of Tomorrow, Today (ibott) initiative, in partnership with Aioi Nissay Dowa Europe.
Oxbotica says it is the first insurance of its kind in the UK, tailored specifically for the risks associated with Level 4 autonomy on open roads.
Gavin Jackson, Oxbotica CEO, concluded: “This Europe-first trial positions the UK as the number one destination for autonomous vehicle development and leapfrogs us towards commercialisation and the subsequent economic benefits available in this hyper-growth technology category.
“Autonomous vehicles will create billions of pounds in new revenues and generate thousands of high-skilled jobs, while helping cities and businesses meet their targets for carbon reductions.
“Our zero-occupancy, all-electric, fully autonomous prototype is exactly the new-type vehicle that will form the mainstay of the transportation industry for decades to come.”
Oxbotica will now focus on accelerating commercial deployment of autonomous vehicles globally, working with big-name partners including ZF, BP and NEVS.
Thatcham, AXA and Mercedes-Benz Cars UK respond to Drive Pilot conditionally automated driving liability announcement
Mercedes-Benz made global headlines in late March by taking the unusual step of announcing that it will accept legal responsibility for accidents caused by its Drive Pilot automated lane keeping system (ALKS).
The move followed the announcement, last December, that it had become the first vehicle manufacturer (VM) to meet the international UN-R157 standard for a Level 3 system, capable of “conditionally automated driving”.
Conditionally automated driving
Mercedes-Benz Cars UK was quick to emphasise that this currently only applies to Germany. “The system must safely perform the dynamic driving task when activated,” it said.
“However, the driver still has duties in public road traffic even during conditionally automated driving. It is true that they are allowed to temporarily turn away from traffic in Germany; however, they must, for example, resume the driving task at any time when requested to do so by the system.”
That sounds innocuous but it’s a major step on the road to self-driving. In cars equipped with this tech – reportedly to be available first on the new £83,000 S-Class – in Germany, where 13,000km of motorway are approved for Level 3, the car can do the driving. Just take that in.
In the UK, Thatcham is leading the development of a consumer safety rating to support the safe adoption of Automated Driving Systems (ADS).
Matthew Avery, Director of Research at Thatcham, commented: “We’re pleased that Mercedes have made that statement, but it has to be seen in context. Firstly, the announcement was made for the German legal system, so you have to look at the legal onus on the driver to maintain control and be responsible.
“From a UK perspective, the recent Highway Code changes clarify that a bit more. It’s fairly clear within the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act (AEV Act) that the VM will ultimately be liable if their system is seen as being at fault.
“It comes back to understanding who was driving at the time of collision, and we’re not so happy that the data part is still slightly ambiguous. VMs are required to record who was driving at the time of the collision. However, it’s not clear that the data will be available in every collision, or how that data will be accessible to the insurer.
“What the Mercedes statement does do, which is helpful, is it gives confidence to the consumer that if something goes wrong, somebody will be there to pick up the bill.”
Doug Jenkins, Motor Technical Risk Manager at AXA Insurance UK, agrees. “On paper, the liability is clear,” he said. “But I think there is some work still to do – together – on how it would play out in practice.
“Let’s think about what happens in a claim: You’re lucky enough to be given one of these cars as a fleet vehicle and unfortunately you get sideswiped. There might well be a sticker on the windscreen with the number of an accident management company or fleet manager.
“The person who takes the first notification call will run through a script. They’ll ask what happened and you might say “They clipped me and took off the wing mirror”, you’re unlikely to say, “It was an issue with their lane assist system”.
“If it’s a sub-£5,000 claim, an accident management company might well just authorise the repair and arrange it via one of their approved repair centres. Job done. This Mercedes announcement means interfering with that very efficient process.
“We will need to develop the process of sign-off and how the costs are charged back – of course, these things will come as we get deeper into the deployment of automated vehicles.
“We’ve recently clarified our cover for electric vehicles (EVs), looking at things like cables trailing and chargers blowing up. These are new eventualities, but it’s just a case of changing the wording to respond to new customer needs.”
Please note: a version of this article was first published by the Institute of the Motor Industry’s MotorPro magazine.
Self-driving related highlights from Elon Musk’s keynote conversation at the FT Future of the Car Summit 2022
Following Volkswagen CEO, Herbert Diess, and Volvo Cars CEO, Jim Rowan, on day one of the FT Future of the Car Summit 2022, there was no doubting the biggest draw on day two: an hour-long “keynote conversation” with Tesla CEO, Elon Musk, covering Twitter, Tesla, SpaceX, self-driving and more.
The part live, part digital session was hosted by The Financial Times’ Global Motor Industry Correspondent, Peter Campbell, from The Brewery in London.
Tesla early days
It started with JB Straubel, formerly chief technical officer at Tesla, now Founder and CEO at renewable energy company Redwood Materials, joining Campbell on stage to discuss the origins of Tesla, with Musk contributing via video link.
EM: “We got together for lunch and the conversation turned to electric vehicles. JB said I should test drive the tzero prototype from AC Propulsion, that was in 2003. I tried to convince them to commercialise the tzero and, after a while, they said they really did not want to. I said, do you mind if I create a commercial electric sports car?”
JBS: “That’s pretty close to how I remember it. My perspective was us trying to chat with you about this electric hydrogen aeroplane concept, but our conversation completely turned to talking about lithium ion batteries… stringing together large numbers of small lithium ion batteries to potentially have hundreds of miles of range, which seems commonplace today, but in 2003 was absolutely unheard of. You understood that concept better than anyone else.”
They went on to cover the early work on a Lotus Elise chassis with the AC Propulsion drive train.
EM: “An insane nightmare, basically… almost everything about the first design of the Tesla Roadster was wrong. It was just an important thing that needed to happen to move to a sustainable technology future.
“At the time we created Tesla, there were no startups doing electric cars, and the big car companies had really no electric car programmes going. Therefore, unless we tried, they were not going to be created. It wasn’t from a standpoint of thinking, hey, here’s a super lucrative idea.
“There’s an incredibly big graveyard of car startups. They’ve almost all gone bankrupt. You’ve only heard of a tiny number of them, the DeLoreans of the world, but there are hundreds of others.
“The only two American car companies that have not yet gone bankrupt are Ford and Tesla. Tesla almost went bankrupt so many times I lost count. To start a car company is mega pain. It’s the furthest thing from easy money you could possibly imagine.
“The car industry is hyper competitive. Throughout the world, they have entrenched customers, dealers, service, factories, existing expertise – these are veteran armies.”
At this point, Straubel exited, leaving Campbell attempting to elicit answers about the widely rumoured purchase of Twitter. We’ll only cover that very briefly here.
Musk on Twitter
EM: “I think Twitter needs to be much more even handed. It currently has a strong liberal bias. This fails to build trust in the rest of the United States and also perhaps in other parts of the world.”
PC: “Are you planning to let Donald Trump back on?”
EM: “I’ve talked with Jack Dorsey about this. I have the same mind, which is that permanent bans should be extremely rare and really reserved for spam accounts, where there’s just no legitimacy. I do think that it was not correct to ban Donald Trump, I think that was mistake because it is alienating a large part of the country.”
20 million cars a year by 2030
Global media coverage assured, conversation returned to Tesla and the ambition to make 20 million cars a year by 2030.
EM: “There are approximately two billion cars and trucks in the world and for us to really make a dent in sustainable energy, in electrification, I think we need to replace at least 1% of the fleet per year, that’s where the 20 million units comes from. I think we’ve got a good chance of getting there.
“We have an incredible team at Tesla, executing very well and our annual growth rates are faster than for any large manufactured product in the history of Earth. I think the next fastest was the Model T. If that growth rate continues then we will reach 20 million vehicles a year, but we may stumble.”
On raw materials, he continued: “The two main cathode choices are nickel and phosphate. Iron is extremely plentiful and the second biggest element is oxygen. So, I do not see any fundamental scaling constraints. Lithium is also quite common.
“Our goal is to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy. The three pillars of a sustainable energy future are electric transport, stationary battery packs and sustainable energy sources – solar, wind, geothermal and hydro.
“All of Earth can easily be powered by solar and wind, stationary battery packs and electric transport. You could power all of Europe with a section of Spain, all of the United States with a corner of Utah or Texas. Obviously, it would make more sense to spread this out. I invite anyone to do the basic math in megawatts per square kilometre.”
They went on to talk about SpaceX, in particular the Falcon 9 rocket. Classic Musk: “I’m sure we’ll do more than 1,000 times the payload to orbit of all other rockets on Earth combined.”
Then, briefly, China, and the Tesla factory in Shanghai. Finally, with the hour flying by, they got to self-driving.
Musk on self-driving
EM: “I don’t think you need full human level intelligence to drive a car. You don’t need deep conceptual understanding of esoteric concepts or anything like that. Anyone who’s driven a car for any length of time, once you have some years of experience, the cognitive load on driving a car isn’t that high.
“You’re able to think about other things, listen to music, have a conversation and still drive safely. So, it’s not like matching everything a human does. It is matching enough of the silicon neural nets to at least be on a par with the biological neural nets to enable self-driving, and I think we’re quite close to achieving that. Don’t take my word for it, sign up for a beta programme, look at the videos people are posting.
“I’m confident we will get far in excess of the safety level of humans. Ultimately, probably a factor of 10 safer than a human, as measured by the probability of injury.
“It’s around a million people per year dying from automotive accidents, maybe 10 million per year are severely injured. So, with autonomy, the cars driving, or assisted driving right now, but it will be fully autonomous the future, there’s those who didn’t realise they would have crashed, or hit a pedestrian or cyclist.
“It is important to note that we have never said ever that Tesla Autopilot does not require attention. We have always made that extremely clear, repeatedly. You can’t even turn it on without acknowledging that it requires supervision. We remind you of that ad nauseam, so this was not a case of setting expectations that the car can simply drive itself.”
It was Q&A time, so I submitted the question: “Why don’t you change the name of the Full Self-Driving package? It is driver assistance not self-driving. The name causes so much unnecessary criticism.” I didn’t get an answer.
To be fair, his hour was nearly done and questions from the audience were stacking up. Classily, he stayed on for a lengthy period of overtime.
Here are some of the highlights…
On micromobility: “Scooters are very dangerous. We don’t recommend anyone drive a scooter.”
On building a small car: “There’s some probability that Tesla will do a smaller car.”
On Tesla licencing their products to other OEMs: “They may be interested in licencing Tesla Autopilot full self driving. I think that would save a lot of lives. I would be very open to that.”
On competitors: “VW is doing the most on the electric vehicle front. There will be some very strong companies coming out of China.”
On AI: “We have the best real world AI team in the world.”
On the next big innovation in personal transportation: “Tunnels are underrated, underappreciated. This notion of induced demand is one of the single dumbest notions I’ve ever heard in my entire life. If adding roads just increases traffic, why don’t we delete them? Decrease traffic. I think you’d have uproar. We already have a proof of concept in Las Vegas with a tunnel going from the convention centre to the strip. It’s working really well.”
On super capacitors: “There simply isn’t enough ruthenium. I thought about it quite a lot. Had I continued as a student and done a PhD at Stanford, a theory I had at the time was to use advanced chipmaking equipment to build solid state capacitors.”
On hydrogen: “The number of times I’ve been asked about hydrogen! If you want a means of energy storage, hydrogen is a bad choice. It’s extremely low density, maintaining it in liquid form is incredibly difficult and it does not naturally occur on Earth. So, you either have to split water with electrolysis or crack hydrocarbons. It is the most dumb thing that I could possibly imagine for energy storage.”
And finally, on wanting to die on Mars: “I just said sure, but not on impact! Really, the goal on that front is making life multiplanetary… to preserve life as we know it, not just humans, but also the other animals and plants. So we don’t end up like the dinosaurs.
“You know, there will be natural calamities that occur on Earth – giant meteors and super volcanoes – and we can also do ourselves in, World War III is maybe looking a little bit more probable these days.
“So, I think it’s important for preserving the light of consciousness that we become a multi-planet species and, ultimately, a multi-stellar species.”
You like autonomous and we like self-driving, as US and UK push different descriptors.
The issue of confusing terminology in the, er, self-driving / driverless / autonomous / automated vehicle industry, has raised its ugly head once again, with the US and UK apparently heading in opposite directions.
The oft-quoted Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has recently updated its “Levels of Driving Automation”, revealing in itself, reflecting a shift towards “Automated” and away from “Autonomous” in some quarters.
You can see the logic. It isn’t generally good practice to brand something by what it’s not, so “self-driving” certainly has the advantage over “driverless” in that respect.
We’re talking headline descriptors here. Let’s not even get into acronyms… like the fact there’s one letter difference between Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) and Automated Driving Systems (ADS) when confusing the two is so dangerous. Grrr.
Self-driving in Korea
Anyway, back to self-driving. We’re not alone in liking it. For example, this month saw the launch of the epically-named Self-driving Robot Alliance in Korea.
Park Jae-young, official for Korean industrial policy, said: “I hope that the Self-driving Robot Alliance will become a place to drive the growth of the domestic self-driving robot market.”
Argument over then, self-driving it is. Not if the largest economy in the world has anything to do with it!
Autonomous in America
Across the pond, Americans are falling out of love with the term “self-driving” and going back to “autonomous”.
You have to question Tesla’s part in all this. It’s a shame, given everything Elon Musk has done for electric cars, that so many hyperbolic headlines are caused by its confusingly-named Full Self-Driving (FSD) package.
It simply isn’t self-driving as the rest of the industry understands it, and it risks drivers misunderstanding what their cars are capable of.
As Forbes reported back in 2020, Tesla has already had to rebrand its Autopilot as Autodrive in Germany. Has its Full Self-Driving (FSD) brand wrecked the self-driving name for everyone else?
Not in the UK apparently. British Standards group, BSi, with its famous kitemarks, recently updated its connected and automated vehicles (CAV) vocabulary, sponsored by the autonomous-leaning CCAV.
Referencing other definitions in the document, BSi defined self-driving as: “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)”.
By way of justification, the definition was accompanied by two notes: 1) Although this term is deprecated within SAE J3016 (2021), it is included here because this is the term best understood by the public to mean the definition as stated (which is the same as that for automated driving).
And 2): The Law Commission of England and Wales and Scottish Law Commission joint report (2022) extended this definition with the condition that the vehicle is to drive “safely and legally, even if an individual is not monitoring the driving environment, the vehicle or the way that it drives”.
Peter Stoker, Chief Engineer for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles at Millbrook, nutshelled the issue last year, telling us: “The key to the future of self-driving is education, education, education – for everyone, the public, vehicle manufacturers, the aftermarket… we have to work on the terminology – autonomous, driverless, CAV, CAM – it’s confusing, even to people who know what they’re talking about.”
With marketing teams in the US pushing “autonomous” and the UK and others pushing “self-driving”, the confusion looks set to continue.
Highway Code changes to move Britain “closer to a self-driving revolution” sparked some stonking new driverless headlines…
What are your views on Mercedes accepting responsibility for accidents caused by its automated lane keeping system?
DJ: “This is a really interesting announcement and is in line with the recommendations from the Law Commission. On paper, the liability is clear, but I think there is some work still do – together – before we can work out how it would play out in practice.
“There’s also a massive difference between retail insurance and fleet insurance. For an individual policyholder, one of these ALKS-equipped cars would probably be on a comprehensive policy with a small excess, whereas in the fleet market a lot of people almost self-insure, with huge excesses on third party only cover. I’m guessing Mercedes focused on the retail business, but it will be interesting to see the implications for fleets.
“Let’s think about what happens in a claim: You’re lucky enough to be given one of these cars as a fleet vehicle and unfortunately you get sideswiped. There might well be a sticker on the windscreen with the number of an accident management company or a fleet manager.
What happens next is important. The person who takes the first notification call will run through a script and ask certain questions. They’ll ask what happened and you might say “They clipped me and took off the wing mirror”, you’re unlikely to say, “It was an issue with their lane assist system”.
“If it’s a sub-£5,000 claim, an accident management company might well just authorise the repair and arrange it via one of their approved repair centres. Job done. This Mercedes announcement means interfering with that very efficient process. Even if an insurer starts looking at the cause of the accident, the report might say “The vehicle just came to a stop – it was a malfunction”. The driver was still supposed to remain in control so how do you attribute blame to the lane assist?
“As an insurer providing basic Road Traffic Act (RTA) cover, we would have to pay any losses and then go to Mercedes and say we’d like our money back. We will need to develop the process of sign-off and how the costs are charged back – of course, these things will come as we get deeper into the deployment of AVs.”
What are the implications of attaching liability to the vehicle rather than the driver?
DJ: “I wish I had a pound for every time this came up in conversation! Let’s say the law changes and self-driving is allowed. What cover would be needed? Does it look like a motor policy? At AXA we’ve got working groups looking at that. It’s all in the wording but very few people read the 50-page agreements – they just want to be covered so we want to make the end product as comprehensive as possible.
“The definition of insurance is transferring risk. Somebody pays for loss or damage caused by something going wrong. That’s the bottom line. We currently insure several organisations trialling autonomous vehicles in the UK, so we understand the exposure. They’re close to the point where they want to take the safety drivers out, and we’re very involved in that discussion.
“The rate of progress is increasing. I bought a Q4 recently and Audi’s technical centre couldn’t answer one of my queries because “it is too new”. We’ve recently clarified our cover for electric vehicles (EVs), looking at things like cables trailing and chargers blowing up. These are new eventualities, but it’s just a case of changing the wording to respond to these new customer needs.
“When it comes to full autonomy, I know it sounds complicated but, in all honesty, I don’t think it will be. Rest assured, by working with The Association of British Insurers (ABI) and Thatcham, the insurance industry will take new factors into account and provide the right cover.”
Is it sensible for ALKS to be the first system defined in UK law as “automated”?
DJ: “As Thatcham have made clear, we’re not particularly encouraged by this being the first stage. The main reason being: ALKS doesn’t pull over safely if something goes wrong. If it could proceed to a safe location – for example, a hard shoulder – then fine, but we’re a long way away from that.
“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 as this technology really does just keep you in your lane.
“Admittedly, it’s a complicated area because of the historic legislation, but there’s a reason all insurers pay into Thatcham – they do a lot of great research – and I think their advice should be listened to.”
Very broadly, what are your views on the biggest claims made about self-driving vehicles?
DG: “The implications for car ownership are interesting, particularly for the younger generation. In my day, passing your test and getting your first car was all about mobility. Young people still want to get from A to B, but they want choices – they’re not so worried about ownership.
“The Highlands Transport Partnership is a good example of mobility as a service (MAAS) – providing access to buses, trains, cars and bikes through a single app. There are more flexible ways to have a car too, for example, to change model every month if you want.
“People talk about a world of zero collisions and, having dealt with serious accidents, it’s a great goal. We know that around 90% of accidents are due to human error. People do silly things and when you have pedestrians, cyclists and old internal combustion engine vehicles sharing a space there is risk. We’ll certainly be much closer to zero collisions once all cars are connected and automated.
“In the meantime, I expect the type of claim to change. Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) will mean less vehicles running into back of third parties, which are usually the most expensive. Assisted driving means there should be less slow speed collisions, and there are currently lots of those.
“It wasn’t so long ago that people started building motorised vehicles and it took around 30 years for that legislation to come in. I think what’s happening now with self-driving is very similar to that.”
Anything else you’d like to mention re self-driving?
“Our role is to move with the times and provide end-to-end cover, to help you get from A to B, even via C and D, safely and on time. I know there are ongoing discussions between the ABI and The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) about what data we can receive from connected cars, and about standardising the format.
“In the here and now, AXA has just launched the STeP app, a digital claims solution on the retail side. We’ve developed it in-house and the thought that’s gone into it is amazing. It will dramatically reduce the time from notification to repair and customer feedback has been very positive.”
AB Dynamics and NASCAR conduct 130mph self-driving crash test at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama
On 12 May 2022, automotive test specialist AB Dynamics posted this smashing self-driving video of its recent work with NASCAR, developing “a driverless solution for conducting a 130mph crash test”:
The on-track planned accident, featuring the “Next Gen” NASCAR race car, was conducted at the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama, with the aim of generating real-world crash test data to correlate with simulations.
The test vehicle was driven at 130mph (209km/h) on a pre-programmed course into the wall, hitting a precise point in the Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barrier at an angle of 24 degrees.
The hardware used included AB Dynamics’ SR60 driving robot for steering and CBAR600 for pedals, plus its Gearshift Robot – all off-the-shelf products.
The inputs were provided by AB Dynamics’ path following software, which used pre-recorded driving information and geometric GPS data to accurately navigate the route.
This package ensured the vehicle hit the wall at 130.015mph within one degree of the prescribed angle.
Craig Hoyt, Business Development Manager at AB Dynamics, said: “The challenge was trying to get this extremely complex machine to do a very precise test without a human driver piloting the car.
“AB Dynamics robots allowed NASCAR to use a fully running race car and conduct the test at a real race track at real race speeds. There is no better data than replicating crash tests in a real environment and our robots enable us to do that accurately and repeatedly.
“This is one of the highest speed crash tests we have ever conducted and the robots only suffered minor damage. It really is a testament to the safety of the vehicle, the barriers and the ruggedness of our products.”
John Patalak, Managing Director of Safety Engineering at The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), said: “This is a truly innovative way to test the safety of vehicles in motorsport. The data we obtained from the test was extremely important and was not possible to get from any crash test facilities at the time.
“The test provided valuable information for correlation with our computer crash simulations and confirmed that the predicted vehicle impact performance from the simulation was duplicated in this real-world crash test.”
On 5 May, the BBC Archive released a news broadcast from May 1971 showcasing “driverless cars and the future of motoring”, as part of its Retro Transport strand.
Filmed at the Road Research Laboratory (RRL) in Berkshire – which became the Transport Research Laboratory, and then TRL, which now runs London’s Smart Mobility Living Lab – our man from the Beeb makes some bold predictions.
So, with the massive benefit of hindsight, how did he get on?
He begins: “There’ll be 30 million cars on the roads of Britain by the end of this century. And motoring will be quite different.”
That’s a strong start as, according to Statista, the number of licensed cars in the UK in the year 2000 was 27.2 million, hugely up from around 10 million when he made the prediction. Not bad crystal-ball gazing!
He goes on to discuss how on-board black-box recorders will assist with toll-paying and traffic regulation, saying: “They’ve been showing us for the first time some of the machinery which will enable them to bill us by computer for driving in these places.
“The idea is that at the entrance to the busy city centre or to other crucial points on the road, there’ll be electrified loops of wire underneath the road surface. And as a car passes, it activates these electric wires.”
Not 10 out of 10 maybe, but still remarkably prescient given congestion charging and telematics-based insurance are now a reality.
So, 50 years on, in terms of road-charging and vehicle connectivity in the UK, his prediction is well on the way to becoming true. Can he keep it up?
The next segment covers research into the most efficient means of getting vehicles on and off Channel Tunnel trains.
Again, he’s pretty spot on, apart from optimistically suggesting this could be in operation by 1978. In reality, construction didn’t start for another decade and the service wasn’t available until 1994. Still, on the big points, he hasn’t been wrong yet.
Driverless crystal-ball gazing
The report saved the best til last, with the segment on self-driving beginning just over two-minutes in.
The reporter enthused: “The very last word is the totally automatic car, no driver at all. The whole thing’s remotely controlled by cables and electrics under the road.”
Hmmm, that’s sounds more like Scalextric than an autonomous vehicle.
Still, he pressed on: “Steering, accelerating, gear-changing, braking and stopping, all the switches and electronics in the car could be provided for £100.”
If only. Maybe costs will come down over time and he’ll end up being proved right.
Thankfully, he rediscovers his inner Nostradmus towards the end, explaining: “The radar device on the front will one day be able to tell how near you are to the car in front of you and slow you down automatically.”
Basically, automated emergency braking (AEB).
Adding: “It’s all needed because you and I are not as good as machines. We tire, we lose concentration, we get cross. One day we will just be able to link our car onto an automatic system to take us right up the motorway.”