Attention turns to secondary legislation as landmark self-driving Bill passes UK Parliament.

Self-driving insurance and skills issues as AV Bill awaits royal assent

Following consideration of Commons amendments in the Lords on 8 May 2024, the Automated Vehicles (AV) Bill has successfully passed through Parliament.

The landmark self-driving legislation now awaits only the rubber stamp of royal assent, with some speculating this could be given within days.

We’ve covered the passage of the Bill extensively on Cars of the Future, from its inclusion in the 2023 King’s Speech to the excellent Self-Driving Vehicles All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) media briefing at Wayve.

For the sake of posterity, let us record here that its long title is: “A Bill to regulate the use of automated vehicles on roads and in other public places; and to make other provision in relation to vehicle automation.”

It was sponsored by Lord Davies of Gower, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Transport (DfT), and Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper, both Conservatives, but secured cross-party support.

Progress of the AV Bill on the Parliament website
Progress of the AV Bill on the Parliament website

Self-driving scrutiny

Lord Davies of Gower said: “My Lords, I extend my gratitude to colleagues across the House for their supportive comments on and contributions to this Bill. Your Lordships’ careful and considered scrutiny has been hugely valuable.

“Over the coming months, we will launch a comprehensive programme of secondary legislation, building the new regulatory framework piece by piece.

“This will incorporate several statutory instruments, including guidance in the form of the statement of safety principles. Among the first elements to be consulted on will be regulations on misleading marketing, as these can apply before the authorisation system has been established.”

What might this mean for Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) package, we wonder? Tellingly, prominent early reactions came from the automotive and insurance industries.

Industry reaction

Jonathan Fong, of the Association of British Insurers (ABI), said: “We’re delighted the Automated Vehicles Bill will soon receive royal assent – putting the UK on the road to being a world leader in AV technology.

“While this Bill represents a significant step forward, further consideration is needed to address concerns around safety and cybersecurity. It’s critical that insurers have access to relevant data in order to support the adoption of this technology.”

Tara Foley, CEO of AXA UK&I, agreed: “AXA UK is delighted that the Bill has now become law, paving the way for self-driving vehicles to improve road safety, boost the UK economy and enhance mobility for people with limited transport options, including the disabled and elderly.

“It’s now crucial that secondary legislation is quickly passed to address issues such as cybersecurity, data sharing and the safety principles for commercial deployment.”

Meanwhile, the Institute of the Motor Industry (IMI) was quick to highlight the technical upskilling required to service fleets of self-driving vehicles.

IMI highlights self-driving training need
IMI highlights self-driving training need

Hayley Pells, Policy Lead at the IMI, said: “The Automated Vehicles Bill 2024 addresses the liability issues of automated vehicles for manufacturers and insurers, and provides a positive pathway for the introduction of this new form of mobility that could be empowering for so many.

“Clearly this is just the first step, and the IMI is keen to ensure that future legislation also takes into account the skills that will be crucial in the aftermarket for safe use of automated vehicles.  

“Failure to maintain and update these high-tech systems, many of which are designed to keep road users safe, really could be a matter of life and death.

“To ensure checks are carried out accurately, we desperately need more technicians to be trained to work on vehicles with this technology. We are therefore urging government and policymakers to ensure there’s the funding and infrastructure to support the essential upskilling.”

Responding to an update on the AV Bill by transport technology lawyer Alex Glassbrook, Ben Gardner of Shoosmiths suggested that royal assent could be given as soon as next week – then on to secondary legislation.

As Nelson Mandela noted in his Long Road To Freedom speech: After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.

Self-driving expert Professor Siddartha Khastgir on the Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report

Cross-domain safety: What do self-driving and automated air and sea transport have in common?

WMG at the University of Warwick, home of The National Automotive Innovation Centre, has reached for the sky (and sea) with ground-breaking research into safe automated land, air and marine mobility.

In early 2022, Professor Siddartha Khastgir, Head of Verification & Validation at WMG, reached out to experts in other automated transport sectors, to see if there were opportunities to learn from each other to unblock the safety challenges in the self-driving industry.

38 organisations got involved, including self-driving big-hitters Wayve, Oxa (formerly Oxbotica), Aurrigo, and Imperium Drive, along with a host of UK universities and regulatory bodies. All gave their time freely for this mission.

The result is the Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report, published in March 2023.

Self-driving insights: The Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report, March 2023.
Self-driving insights: The Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report, March 2023.

“The economic potential of the global automated transport ecosystem is projected to reach over £750 billion by 2035, with a UK market share of approximately 6% representing £42 billion and creating up to 38,000 new jobs,” the report begins – breath-taking figures.

“However, safety remains the biggest challenge for commercialisation of automated transport systems (ATS). Safety and the corresponding perceived safety of ATS technology has a direct correlation with the development of trust and acceptance in the technology.”

Quite right, as Professor Khastgir knows better than perhaps anyone. Having started his career with Tata Motors in India (having taken part in the Formula Student engineering competition during his undergraduate days at IIT Kharagpur), he worked with OEMs in Germany for FEV, before doing a PhD in trust in automation and test methodologies for automated driving systems at WMG.

With in-depth knowledge of both the engineering challenges and the human factors, he has led and helped draft many of the UK and international standards around Operational Design Domains (ODDs). He’s also a member of the Department for Transport (DfT) Science Advisory Council and a UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Future Leaders Fellow.

NK: How did this cross-industry self-driving initiative come about?

SK: “After my PhD, I established a team on verification and validation at WMG, looking at how to prove that self-driving cars are safe. We spent four or five years working on a methodology which would be scalable. At that time, we were still very car focused. The methodology we created is underpinned by the ODD concept and its definition.

“We started sharing the ODD concept with different players in the self-driving ecosystem – industry players and regulators. We had a lot of discussions with the DfT, the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA), the European Commission, and also industry. I was very humbled by the response, to the extent that our framework is actually in the EU automated driving legislation that was published last year.

“We felt that, because of the framework’s scalability, it could be translated into aviation and maritime autonomy. If you look at the ODD concept and detach it from self-driving cars, from a first principles level, it can work in other sectors. So, we started liaising with different stakeholders in automated marine and aviation.

“We took what we did in self-driving, abstracted it, and identified things that we thought would be similar and different. We then held an event in London, in March last year, where we presented it to stakeholders from all the sectors. It seemed to capture the imagination – everybody wanted to come on this journey with us. All along, we knew self-driving would also benefit from learning from aviation and maritime.

“Getting people from all these different domains into the same room – people willing to collaborate and with a genuine appetite to learn – is no mean feat, a big success for WMG.”

NK: Tell us about the report itself and the main findings…

SK: “We identified three areas that the safety assurance for autonomous solutions ecosystem really needs help with. The first was a safety framework and metrics, the second was virtual test environments (simulations), and the third was communicating safety. The last one in particular – societal acceptance of this technology – is underappreciated in most discussions.

“We urged all stakeholders – developers, manufacturers, fleet service providers, regulators and policymakers – to work together to demonstrate and communicate safety, rather than competing using safety as a selling point, a philosophy we are championing.

“We created three working parties and over the last year they’ve held 10 workshops, equating to over 200 person days of work. That led to the Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report, which we authored, capturing all the inputs from these workshops. We launched it in March this year, and it was very well received, not only in the UK, but internationally.

“We’ve had a lot of feedback and the next step is to implement the recommendations detailed in the executive summary, covering themes of evaluating safety and communicating safety. We have already started with the implementation phase. Some of the most interesting feedback was on communicating safety. People felt that this is not talked about enough. Communicating safety is a very important USP of the work we’re doing, considering safety more holistically, not just as an engineering subject.

“Both of these concepts – evaluating safety and communicating safety – remain true for land, aviation and maritime autonomy applications. But not everything is similar. For validation of your simulation, a classic difference is the qualifying thresholds between real-world and virtual world, which would be different for each sector. However, a lot of the processes and approaches used would be common, but those kinds of subtleties are important.”

NK: How will the report’s recommendations be implemented?

SK: “At the report launch event, we had the chair of the Science and Technology Select Committee, Greg Clark, the chair of the Transport Select Committee, Iain Stewart, and the Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Louise Haigh, as well as high level speakers from many different organisations.

MPs on the Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems panel
MPs at the Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report launch

“A major part of our work at WMG, apart from the research and working with industry, is driving impact for our research through leading and influencing the international standards and regulation. We are involved with the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) standards, and I am part of the discussions at the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) forum. It is all about translating strong research evidence into regulations, because I strongly believe that regulations can be an enabler for automated technology.”

The MP’s notable commitments can be seen in this video:

Self-driving safety

Iain Stewart, MP for self-driving hotbed Milton Keynes South, said: “This technology is coming. We have to get it right. Together, we will be able to come up with that sensible set of world-leading regulations.”

Greg Clark, MP for Royal Tunbridge Wells, said: “In terms of the impacts of this programme, which are already considerable, Iain and myself, and our members, will make sure that government is aware of, and takes up, the requirements of the recommendations that are made.”

Louise Haigh, MP for Sheffield Heeley, said: “There’s a real economic opportunity in this type of innovation – from enhancing wellbeing and improving quality of life, through to reducing carbon emissions, the potential is there.”

There are further telling national and international contributions from Dr Biagio Ciuffo, Smart Mobility Project Portfolio Leader at the European Commission Joint Research Centre, Tony Boylen, Principal Specialist in Assurance of Autonomy at Lloyd’s Register, Michael Gadd, Head of Office of Airworthiness at Blue Bear Systems Research, Tim Johnson, Policy Director at Civil Aviation Authority, Dr Genovefa Kefalidou, Lecturer in Human-Computer Interaction at University of Leicester, and Nick Fleming, Associate Director of Transport & Mobility at BSI, amongst many others.

The full Cross-Domain Safety Assurance for Automated Transport Systems report (March 2023) can be found here.

Tom Leggett of Thatcham Research did an epic round of media interviews to explain what BlueCruise is – assisted driving – and isn’t – self-driving.

Not self-driving: Thatcham media marathon to clear up BlueCruise capability confusion

Few were expecting it, but 13 April 2023 will go down in British motoring history. It was the day Ford announced that the Department for Transport (DfT) had approved the use of its BlueCruise assisted driving system on parts of the UK motorway network, making hands-free legal for the first time.

Initially, only a select few gained the ability to go ‘hands off, eyes on’ – drivers of 2023 Ford Mustang Mach-E cars who activate a subscription. Even then, use is restricted to 2,300 miles of pre-mapped motorways in England, Scotland and Wales – the new ‘Blue Zones’. Be in no doubt though, this is momentous.

One foot in the future

“It’s not every day you can say you’ve placed one foot in the future,” said Martin Sander, General Manager at Ford in Europe. “BlueCruise becoming the first hands-free driving system of its kind to receive approval for use in a European country is a significant step forward for our industry.”

UK Transport Minister, Jesse Norman, agreed: “I am delighted that this country is once more at the forefront of innovation. The latest advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) make driving smoother and easier, but they can also help make roads safer by reducing scope for driver error.”

One of the main themes at the recent Zenzic Connected and Automated Mobility (CAM) Innovators event was the need to do more to establish the UK as a global leader. This embracing of hands-free will be noted around the world.

Ford describes BlueCruise as Level 2 driver assistance, with Lisa Brankin, managing director of Ford in Britain, telling the BBC’s Today programme that, in the case of an accident, the driver will still be responsible as the technology is “not autonomous driving”.

Ford BlueCruise graphic, 2023
Ford BlueCruise graphic, 2023

BlueCruise combines intelligent adaptive cruise control and lane-centering with an in-cabin camera monitoring eye gaze and head position. If necessary, alerts in the instrument cluster and audible chimes will prompt the driver to return their eyes to the road.

Assisted not self-driving

Unfortunately, and rather predictably, much of the UK media again confused assisted driving and self-driving. The Guardian went with “First hands-free self-driving system approved for British motorways”, The Sun with “Huge car firm is launching the UK’s first-approved self-driving technology”.

Huge credit to Tom Leggett, vehicle technology specialist at Thatcham Research, for doing a marathon round of media interviews to explain what BlueCruise is – assisted driving– and what it isn’t – driverless or self-driving.

“The sudden introduction of this technology did catch the industry a little off-guard, as it was not anticipated that it would reach UK roads for another 18-months or maybe even two years,” he said.

“It has been approved by the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) under Article 39 for a new and innovative technology, albeit based on current technology. Basically, the VCA were convinced by evidence from Ford, and their own on-track and on-road testing, that BlueCruise is as safe as, and not fundamentally different to, existing assisted driving technologies.

“The key point to emphasise is that it is assisted driving. What makes it slightly different is that it permits the driver to take their hands off the steering wheel. However, the driver is always responsible for driving. Any input from the driver, such as braking or changing lane, and the system will essentially turn off.

“The hope is that the driver monitoring will make it even safer. It is a camera system which looks at the driver’s direction of gaze to ensure they’re concentrating on the road, not looking out of the window or checking their phone.

“At Thatcham Research, we believe direct driver monitoring will have a significant role in addressing drowsiness and distraction. Currently in the UK, about 25% of all accidents involve some sort of distraction.

“It is vital that drivers using BlueCruise are aware of their responsibilities, and we’ll also be very interested to understand how they feel about using it.”

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

Related story: Barrister Alex Glassbrook says approval of hands-free driving is a radical development in UK motoring, and should be accompanied by effective official guidance, training and information to the public and affected organisations.

BlueCruise is good, but it’s not self-driving.

Bolt from the blue oval: hands-free Ford is UK 1st but NOT self-driving

Big news! The Department for Transport has approved the use of Ford’s BlueCruise assisted driving system on parts of the UK motorway network. Be in no doubt, this is momentous – the first time UK drivers will legally be able to take their hands off the wheel. But what does it mean for self-driving?

The scope

As we sit here today, only a select few have gained the ability to sometimes go hands-free – drivers of 2023 Ford Mustang Mach-E cars who activate a subscription. They can then use the “hands-off, eyes-on” tech on 2,300 miles of pre-mapped motorways in England, Scotland and Wales – the new ‘Blue Zones’.

UK motorway blue zones - April 2023
UK motorway blue zones – April 2023

The Ford video below explains how it works, with the voiceover saying: “BlueCruise combines with your intelligent adaptive cruise control and lane-centering systems, allowing you to take your hands off the steering wheel while it maintains cruising speed and keeps you in your current lane.

“An infrared camera monitors your eye gaze and head position to ensure that you’re paying due care and attention to the road ahead. If the system finds you’re not looking at the road it will notify you either with an alert message displayed in the instrument cluster or by sounding an audible chime to remind you to return your eyes to the road.

“If you do not react to the warnings the system will cancel, gently pump the brakes to get your attention and slow your vehicle down while maintaining steering control.”

Ford assisted driving video

The legalities

Last year the government seemed to be planning to class cars equipped with Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) as self-driving. That hasn’t happened, which is a very welcome shift.

The UK government’s website confirms: “At present, there are no self-driving vehicles listed for use in Great Britain”.

Ford itself describes BlueCruise as Level 2 driver assistance, and Transport Minister Jesse Norman made clear: “The latest advanced driver assistance systems make driving smoother and easier, but they can also help make roads safer.”

Jesse Norman, Minister of State in the Department for Transport
Jesse Norman, Minister of State in the Department for Transport

Lisa Brankin, managing director of Ford in Britain and Ireland, told the BBC‘s Today programme on Friday that, in the case of an accident, the driver will still be responsible as the technology is “not autonomous driving”.

The beeb also noted that other vehicle manufacturers offer similar systems – Tesla has Autopilot and Mercedes has Drive Pilot. Interestingly, the latter announced last year that it will accept legal responsibility for accidents caused by its system.

One of the main themes at the recent Zenzic Connected and Automated Mobility Innovators event was the need to do more to establish the UK as a global leader in CAM. This embracing of hands-free will be noted around the world.

Self-driving headlines

Unfortunately, and rather predictably, much of the UK media has again confused assisted driving and self-driving.

The Guardian went with the headline “First hands-free self-driving system approved for British motorways”.

The Sun went with “HANDS OFF Huge car firm is launching the UK’s first-approved self-driving technology”.

Various outlets, including ITV, even regurgitated the line from the press release that BlueCruise can operate up to 80mph. Not on UK roads presumably as that’s 10mph above the motorway speed limit!

Let’s be clear – this lack of clarity is dangerous. Lives are at stake and road safety should be paramount.

Eyes on the road

This Ford video shows a driver happily gazing out of the window and being warned to “watch the road”.

Ford hands-free video

As the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Connected and Automated Mobility stated in its red lines: “A statutory definition of self-driving must be established to distinguish this technology from assisted driving”.

The final word goes to Tom Leggett, of Thatcham, who emphasised: “For the first time ever drivers will be permitted to take their hands off the wheel. However, their eyes must remain on the road ahead. Crucially, the driver is not permitted to use their mobile, fall asleep or conduct any activity that takes attention away from the road.”

Shortlisted by Zenzic for CAM Scale-up, Streetscope’s Collision Hazard Measure can inform safe self-driving deployment.

A new measure for safer vehicles, self-driving or not

In this Cars of the Future exclusive, the co-founders of Pasadena-based Streetscope, Mark Goodstein and David Muyres, explain how their Collision Hazard Measure enables self-driving stakeholders to accelerate deployment with confidence.

DM: “The UK is a leader in automated vehicle (AV) development and we’re in discussion with an array of companies and organisations about demonstrating our capability in the UK environment. That would be a great success point for communicating our value to customers worldwide.

“Our technology evaluates the safe moving of any vehicle, human or machine driven. We treat it as a black box and evaluate how safely it moves amongst hazardous objects in the street scene, using simulation or camera data. Then we create indexes that different industries can use, for example, insurers, vehicle manufacturers, regulators and planners.

“The insurance industry is the one we’re having most conversations with. They want to understand the hazards of new technology vehicles, and now they’re realising we can help with the human-driven side as well. They can use our data to price risk more effectively.

Informing safe self-driving deployment

“Vehicle developers need to answer basic questions like: Am I to safe to deploy yet? They currently don’t have an independent way to objectively measure how safely a vehicle moves, and we can provide that.

“Regulatory is very interesting and it’s nice they’re interested in using our measure to guide future development.

“Infrastructure planning companies can hire us to evaluate a future self-driving route. We can identify high hazard locations and make recommendations to mitigate issues.”

Streetscope Collision Hazard Measure for self-driving
Streetscope Collision Hazard Measure for vehicles incl. self-driving

And you’re talking to vehicle verification bodies too?

MG: “Yes. We’re a start-up, not at scale yet, but all we need is kinematic data, the position of all objects each tick of the clock, from any traffic scene to calculate the hazard posed between the vehicle and all other objects. And we can get that from either simulations or using cameras as data sources. Then we score them based on the Collision Hazard Measure we’ve invented.

“We could use lidar and radar, but those geometric sensors are very expensive. Cameras are ubiquitous, so we’re using them and making a pretty good job of it.

“There’s a school of thought that you can use aggregated data from other drive events using cell phone based sensors, but they lack context. Why did they slam on the brakes? Why did they accelerate so aggressively? There is no correlation to risk.

“We’re trying to get these industries to recognise that the data they’re spending a lot of money on is insufficient, and they’d be better off using our Collision Hazard Measure.”

For further info, visit the Streetscope website.

Tim Dawkins explains why the UK is so well placed to develop self-driving vehicle technologies and regulations.

World Economic Forum: UK provides leadership on autonomous mobility

With its laudable aim “to demonstrate entrepreneurship in the global public interest while upholding the highest standards of governance”, transformational technologies like autonomous vehicles are natural territory for The World Economic Forum. Here, we get the considered views of the Forum’s Automotive & Autonomous Mobility Lead, Tim Dawkins – an Englishman working for the Geneva-based organisation in sunny California.

Tim Dawkins
Tim Dawkins leads a portfolio of automotive and autonomous mobility policy research activities.

Tell us about your path to autonomous vehicles and The World Economic Forum

TD: “I started out studying motorsport engineering at Brunel and my first job out of university was in vehicle security for automotive consulting firm, SBD, helping manufacturers meet Type Approval requirements with anti-theft technologies. When SBD opened an office in North America, I went there, to lead their consulting in autonomous driving. Then, in 2018, I got my MBA and wound-up joining The World Economic Forum.

“Here at the Forum, our mission is greater than to convene events for business leaders, but actually to improve the state of the world. In my domain, that means making sure that the future of transportation is as safe as possible. Broadly, we work with governments and industry leaders to help them understand each other better. In the world of autonomous vehicles that means helping governments understand how the technology is evolving and the creation of new governance structures – which can be used in regulations, standards and assessment criteria.

“A crude analogy is to think about a driving test for the self-driving cars of the future – what does that look like? It’s obviously a lot more nuanced and complex than that, but by being a neutral entity – bringing together the likes of Aurora and Cruise with leading academics and regulators to have focused discussions around autonomous vehicle operation and deployment, or what it means to define a safe autonomous vehicle – is a very effective way of achieving better outcomes for all.

“It’s not just about the advanced technologies of the future, our portfolio also includes road safety research – improving the infrastructure, reducing crashes and fatalities with today’s ADAS technologies, and looking ahead to creating a safer future of mobility with autonomous vehicles.”

With your global perspective on autonomous mobility, how is the UK doing in terms of the government’s stated aim of being “at the forefront of this change”?

TD: “The automotive industry has always been very important to the UK economy, so it is natural that that industry and the government agree on the strategic priority to make the UK an attractive place to develop and test these technologies. We have world-leading engineering talent, universities and research and test facilities within our borders, so it’s shifting the focus from sheet metal and engines over to Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) technologies. Really, it’s a great fit.

“What UK governments have done – I say governments plural, because this has been going on for over 10 years – is to create institutions which spur development. There’s been dedicated funding and research grants not only to grow the CAV ecosystem within the UK, but to encourage international organisations to come and develop in the UK as well.

“What we see now is the result of many years of building the business case, to position the UK as a competitive place to test and develop new technologies. This top-down industrial policy, combined with an open code of practice to facilitate automated vehicle trialling, make the UK a great place to test and develop AVs.

“This ecosystem view is something we study here at the Forum. We recently published a joint paper with The Autonomous – The AV Governance Ecosystem: A Guide for Decision-Makers – which looks at how the standards bodies, alliances and consortia are coming together to develop solutions which will become policy, or at least be used in future governance. You will notice that a lot of UK entities feature very prominently in this study.

“For example, BSI are one of the long-established standards institutions that have been mission-aligned to further CAV mobility, by delivering technical standards and guidance to address governance gaps in the sector, such as the new Publicly Available Specification (PAS) 1881, 1882 and 1883 documents and a vocabulary of CAV terms. Then you have entities such as Zenzic to create the business environment and inform the overall roadmap to making autonomous vehicles a reality, supported by entities such as Innovate UK, and a whole ecosystem of universities and research entities creating a thriving network for innovation.

Please could you comment on the transformative potential of AVs to be, as the WEF’s Mouchka Heller put it, “a necessary first step towards building a better, more equitable and healthier world”?

TD: “One of the things our team like to tackle is how to incentivise these companies to go not just where they can make the most profit, but to provide services to those who most need transportation. This means providing services in areas that are underserved by public transport.

“Think about commuting into London – you drive to the train station, then get onto the TFL network. If you can make that journey more efficient, hopefully more affordable, and accessible, suddenly the economic opportunities that come with commuting into London are open to a greater swathe of people. It’s a very local issue. You have to look at each city and say: where are the areas with the least economic opportunities and how can mobility provide them with greater access to jobs, healthcare and all the things they need?

“Fundamentally, mobility should be considered a human right. It’s not codified as one, but the link between good access to mobility and access to a good future is extremely strong. When we talk to city regulators, for example, they’re very keen to view autonomous vehicles as a way of making their transportation ecosystem more efficient – using AVs to get people onto the existing network, rather than replacing buses or train services.”

That’s certainly opened our eyes to the important work of the World Economic Forum, and we’ll be hearing more from Tim’s colleague, Michelle Avary, Head of Automotive and Autonomous Mobility, at next month’s Reuters event, Car Of The Future 2021.

Humanising Autonomy uses behavioural psychology and computer algorithms to make cities safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Using cameras and AI to protect vulnerable road users

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with Raunaq Bose, co-founder of Humanising Autonomy.

Before establishing predictive artificial intelligence (AI) company Humanising Autonomy in 2017, Raunaq Bose studied mechanical engineering at Imperial College London and innovation design engineering at the Royal College of Art. Focusing on the safety of vulnerable road users, Humanising Autonomy aims to redefine how machines and people interact, making cities safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike.

RB: “Our model is a novel mix of behavioural psychology, deep learning and computer algorithms. We work with OEMs and Tier 1 suppliers on the cameras on vehicles, with the aftermarket on retrofitted dashcams, and also with infrastructure. Our software works on any camera system to look for interactions between vulnerable road users, vehicles and infrastructure in order to prevent accidents and near misses. While most AI companies use black box systems where you can’t understand why decisions are made, we set out to make our models more interpretable, ethically compliant and safety friendly.

“When it comes to questions like ‘Is this pedestrian going to cross the road?’, we look at body language and factors like how close they are to the edge of the pavement. We then put a percentage on the intention. Take distraction, for example, we cannot see it but we can infer it. Are they on the phone? Are they looking at the oncoming vehicle? Is their view blocked? These are all behaviours you can see and our algorithm identifies them and puts a numerical value on them. So we can say, for example, we’re 60% sure that this pedestrian is going to cross. This less binary approach is important in building trust – you don’t want lots of false positives, for the system to be pinging all the time.

“One of the main things we’re likely to see over the next decade is increased use of micromobility, such as cycling and e-scootering. At the same time you will see more communication between these different types of transportation, and also with vehicles and infrastructure. The whole point of ADAS is to augment the driver’s vision, to reduce blind spots and, if necessary, take control of the vehicle to avoid a shunt. Then there’s the EU agreement that by 2022 all buses and trucks must have safety features to detect and warn of vulnerable road users.

“We currently only look at what’s outside the vehicle, but with self-driving there will be monitoring of the cabin. In terms of privacy, we have a lot of documentation about our GNPR processes and how we safeguard our data. Importantly, we never identify people, for example, we never watch for a particular individual between camera streams. We look to the future with autonomous cars but for now we’re focused on what’s on the road today.”

For further info visit humanisingautonomy.com.

Vivacity Labs founder backs the citizen first vision of 21st century privacy.

Time for a grown-up conversation about cameras, AI, traffic flow and privacy

Our Zenzic CAM Creator series continues with the founder of Vivacity Labs, Mark Nicholson.

Vivacity uses sensors, cameras and artificial intelligence (AI) to provide “up-to-the-minute data on urban movement”, helping local councils to promote active travel, improve safety and reduce congestion. Big Brother you say? Well, it’s 2020 not 1984 and CEO Mark Nicholson is very happy to have that debate.

MN: “As the transport network becomes more complicated, local authorities need more powerful tools. Tech giants have invaded the ecosystem, and when you’re dealing with Uber and driverless cars, sending someone out with a clipboard just isn’t going to cut it. We bring new technology which tells them about their transport, so they can adapt and gain control over the ecosystem.

“We started with sensors and then video-based sensors, generating huge data sets and better quality data. We’ve looked at everything from cyclists undertaking to lockdown journey times and asked: how can we use this data to make the road system more efficient? The next phase is autonomous vehicles, because that ecosystem needs to work with both infrastructure and other road users.

“Privacy is not just a key issue in self-driving but in the whole smart city. There are basically two visions – the Chinese and the European. The Chinese vision is very invasive, it’s 1984 and that’s the point. The alternative is the European vision, with the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). For a while it looked like there might be a third, a corporate American vision. Google were running a smart city project in Canada, but it didn’t work out so we’re back to two models.”

If you don’t know about the Quayside project in Toronto, a much-shared Guardian article from 2019 warned of surveillance capitalism, data harvesting and the possibility that algorithms could be used to nudge behaviour in ways that favour certain businesses. You can read it here or, er, Google it.

MN: “We’re very much on the European, privacy-centric, citizen first side – an ecosystem that gives the benefits of mass data without the costs to privacy. All our data is anonymised at source, everything. Each camera or sensor unit has its own processor on board which uses AI to extract information, for example, what are the road users? The imagery is discarded within a few milliseconds, all we keep is the data. We recently looked at how socially distanced people were in Kent and, although no personal data was collected, it caused a bit of controversy.”

It did indeed. “Big Brother is watching your social distancing: Fury as traffic flow cameras are secretly switched to monitor millions of pedestrians in government-backed Covid project”, screamed the headline in the Daily Mail. We’d better get back to self-driving.

MN: “Over the last couple of years the hype around driverless cars has died down. There’s been a recognition that autonomous vehicles are not as close as Elon Musk promised. The technology is progressing though. They can drive quite well on motorways and in quiet areas, but in busy, congested areas they struggle.

“What would happen if you rolled out driverless cars today? My suspicion is they would probably perform to about the same level as human drivers. The question is: Are we happy with systemic risk rather than personal risk? Can we engineer out that risk? Can we make the infrastructure intelligent enough so it works with vehicles in even the most challenging situations?

“The best way to end the no-win scenario is to have enough data to dodge it. Most of these incidents come about due to an unforeseen element, such as a pedestrian stepping out, a cyclist skipping a red light or someone speeding round a corner. If the vehicle knows about it in advance, the trolley problem never occurs. For me it’s about having the data earlier, and how we, as representatives of infrastructure, can help to give cars that information.”

For further info, visit vivacitylabs.com.

Deadly driverless car crashes

Probably the highest profile fatal crash involving a driverless car occurred in Arizona in March 2018.

An Uber test car, in autonomous mode but with a safety driver, hit a 49-year-old homeless woman in the city of Tempe.

Elaine Herzberg was walking with a bicycle and not on a crossing. It was the first reported fatal crash in the US involving a self-driving vehicle and a pedestrian.

Fast forward nearly a year and the University of Michigan has unveiled a new project to predict pedestrian movements with greater accuracy.

“Prior work in this area has typically only looked at still images,” said Ram Vasudevan, assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “It wasn’t really concerned with how people move in three dimensions.”

By studying things like gait pace, foot placement and the symmetry of arms and legs, the team attempt to predict the future locations of one or several pedestrians up to 50 yards from the vehicle.

“If a pedestrian is playing with their phone, you know they’re distracted,” said Vasudevan. “Their pose and where they’re looking is telling you a lot about their level of attentiveness. It is also telling you a lot about what they’re capable of doing next.”

Previously, the most notorious driverless crash was also in the US, in 2016, when a Tesla Model S in autopilot mode smashed into a truck’s trailer, killing the car’s 40-year-old driver.

There have been numerous close shaves too.

Just last week in St. John’s, Canada, a driverless car reportedly set off at high-speed down a residential street, jumped a snow bank and slammed into a nearby garage.

Incredibly, no one was hurt. The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (RNC) is investigating.

The driverless dilemma: who to save in no-win crash situations

Addressing the vital question of what driverless cars should do in no-win crash situations, an AA survey of 21,000 UK drivers found that 59% would rather put themselves in harm’s way than risk more lives.

That seems highly magnanimous, but other results were far from clear-cut. 40% of respondents “preferred not to say” when faced with unpalatable options like running over children or the elderly.

AA president, Edmund King, said: “Of those who could make a choice, a clear majority decided to put themselves in danger, perhaps indicating they accept the risks and potential fallibilities of the technology.

“The driverless dilemma is a common question for programmers of autonomous vehicles, but the number of people who avoided giving a definitive answer shows this is a difficult ‘live or let die’ dilemma.”

The AA survey broadly backs up the findings outlined in Reasons to fear driverless cars – namely that most people agree:

1) Humans should be saved over animals.
2) The lives of many should outweigh the few.
3) The young should have priority over the old.

But it isn’t that simple. The waters get murky when people are asked if they would rather purchase a car programmed to protect them.

Azim Shariff, of the University of Oregon, asks: “Would you really want to be among the minority shouldering the duties of safety, when everyone else is free-riding, so to speak, on your equitability?”

Will all manufacturers apply the same default settings? Should owners be able to change them?

It is a huge concern that driverless cars could be on sale by 2021 when we’re not even close to answering such fundamental questions.