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.

Big self-driving hardware news as Tesla registers a new radar unit with the US Federal Communications Commission.

Does Tesla’s brave U-turn on radar signal a more sensible approach to self-driving?

Thanks to Angelos Lakrintis on the Linkedin Self Driving Cars group for alerting us to the news that Tesla is apparently doing a major U-turn and re-embracing radar.

The EV specialist famously stopped fitting radar to new cars in May last year, following years of protestations by CEO Elon Musk that self-driving could be best achieved with cameras and silicon neural nets alone.

Self-driving hardware

Last year, The New York Times reported: “Musk has repeatedly instructed the company’s Autopilot team, which works on self-driving car tech, to ditch radar and use only cameras instead.

“The reason for this approach, Musk said in October, is to focus the data that’s being presented to the car’s computer systems.

“Tesla’s camera-based “vision” self-driving tech “became so good,” Musk said, that adding radar data was actually giving the system more information than it needed.”

Musk on self-driving at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022
Musk on self-driving at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022

Indeed, he was still making the point at last month’s FT Future of the Car Summit 2022, saying: “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.”

Well, a week is a long time in politics, they say, and on 7 June Tesla registered a new radar unit with the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Radar for self-driving

It has been widely reported that senior Tesla engineers have long disagreed with Musk on radar, pressing home many of the points made by Clem Robertson, CEO of R4dar Technologies, in our very first Zenzic CAM Creator profile.

“Each technology has its shortcomings,” Robertson said. “GPS is no good in tunnels; the cost of 5G can be prohibitive and coverage is patchy; cameras aren’t much good over 100 metres or in the rain, lidar is susceptible to spoofing or misinterpretation; digital maps struggle with temporary road layouts – but together they create a more resilient system.

“Radar only communicates with itself, so it is cyber-resilient. It works in all weathers. It is reliable up to 250-300m and very good at measuring range and velocity, while the latest generation of radars are getting much better at differentiating between two things side-by-side.”

This latest development suggests that Tesla is now on-board with such thinking.

According to Drive Tesla Canada, the registration allows Tesla to sell vehicles with the new units installed in the US. It speculates that they could form part of the highly anticipated Hardware 4.0 (HW4).

“Tesla currently builds vehicles with HW 3.0, otherwise known as the Full Self-Driving (FSD) computer,” it notes. “It is believed that Tesla will introduce the next-generation computer with the launch of the Cybertruck.

Will Tesla Cybertruck have HW4 for self-driving?
Will Tesla Cybertruck have HW4 for self-driving?

“Whether Tesla will offer existing customers a free upgrade to the new computer, like it did after the introduction of HW3, remains to be seen.”

Given Tesla was previously such a strong advocate for binning radar, it will be interesting to see whether others also back away from the idea.

For instance, Auto Evolution reported in April that Michael Benisch, VP of Engineering at Toyota subsidiary Woven Planet, believes a camera-only approach is possible.

Perhaps tellingly, Toyota itself always remained committed to using multiple sensors, both lidar and radar, on all vehicles offered for sale.

Musk himself calls the motor industry “hyper competitive” and with all major vehicle manufacturers now embracing electric, Tesla’s old USP is no longer unique.

If this U-turn on radar is a sign of a maturing, perhaps more sensible Tesla, its rivals should probably be pleased and worried in equal measure. 

Why insurance is fundamental to the advancement of Oxbotica’s trials and self-driving in general

Oxbotica self-driving 1st illustrates insurance industry’s increasing focus on A-EVs 

Further details have emerged of the insurance industry’s contribution to Oxbotica’s recent self-driving first – running a zero-occupancy automated electric vehicle (A-EV) on public roads in Europe.

As noted in our original story, 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.

Insuring Businesses Of Tomorrow, Today (ibott) re self-driving
Insuring Businesses Of Tomorrow, Today (ibott) re self-driving

Additional comments provided via Haggie Partners on 26 May included the following by Rebecca Marsden and Sam Tiltman.

Enabling self-driving

Rebecca Marsden, underwriter at Apollo ibott, said: “The world is on the cusp of a once in a lifetime world-changing technology revolution, and Apollo through its ibott business, in partnership in the UK with Aioi Nissay Dowa Europe as insurer, is thrilled to have taken the first step with Oxbotica in ensuring universal autonomy reaches its full potential, enabled by innovative, comprehensive and flexible insurance solutions.”

Sam Tiltman, sharing economy and mobility leader for the UK & Ireland at Marsh, added: “Insurance is fundamental to the advancement of Oxbotica’s trials; this latest exciting development signals growing market confidence in how AVs will revolutionise UK transport infrastructure.” 

Oxbotica’s self-driving first – a zero-occupancy automated electric vehicle on public roads

Focus on self-driving

Other recent examples of the insurance industry’s increasing focus on self-driving include: our 17 May interview with Doug Jenkins, Motor Technical Risk Manager at AXA Insurance UK; the 27 May Insurance Post piece by Pamela Kokoszka, “Awareness campaign needed for drivers before accelerating introduction of AVs”; and the 1 June piece in The Actuary, The magazine of The Institute and Faculty of Actuaries (IFoA), by Ben Hoster, director of transformative technologies at Marsh McClennan, “Changing gears: autonomous vehicles and motor insurance”.

In the latter, Hoster opined: “Electric autonomous vehicles (E-AVs) can help manufacturers to generate short-term revenues by providing semi-autonomous features such as advanced driver assistance systems, aspects of which include lane keeping assistance.

“Data collected from these systems – sensor inputs, camera feeds and electronic control unit decisions – will help to improve deep learning algorithms, facilitating a safe and scalable migration to full urban autonomy.

“The data collected from E-AVs will also increase the accuracy of risk assessments, making it more viable to insure them.”

He goes on to predict that multiple forms of coverage (including product, motor and cyber liability) will begin to overlap, that the determination of liability for bodily injury and property damage (BIPD) will become more difficult, and that E-AVs will influence vehicle ownership.

The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted more rival self-driving terminology here, with Marsh McClennan preferring electric autonomous vehicles (E-AVs) and the likes of PWC putting the A first, with autonomous electric vehicles (A-EVs).

Hoster concluded: “The insurance industry’s rigorous risk assessment methods and strict safety standards will build public confidence, improve profitability and pave the way for a future in which mobility is driverless and electrified.”

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.”

A star of early self-driving, it might be farewell to the Roborace race series.

End of the road for self-driving race series Roborace?

Thanks to Autocar for alerting us to the fact that the Roborace self-driving race series may be no more.

Roborace was established in 2015 by British-based Russian businessman Denis Sverdlov’s Kinetik Group.

Self-driving media boost

Its media profile was boosted by Formula E champion Lucas Di Grassi becoming CEO from 2017 to 2019.

Formerly Russia’s Deputy Minister of Communications, Sverdlov is now best known as the founder and CEO of electric vehicle startup, Arrival.

It was therefore no surprise when Roborace was acquired by Arrival.

Roborace self-driving race car 2019
Roborace self-driving race car 2019

While there had been plans to create a full race series, to be held before Formula E events, the vision never transpired.

Video of a less than successful test – when the car did a sharp right off the start line and crashed straight into a wall at Thuxton – went viral.

However, we prefer to look back at Roborace’s finest hour, in 2018, when it became the first self-driving car to climb the hill at the Goodwood Festival of Speed:

Roborace at Goodwood  in 2018

In May, Autocar reported filings showing that Roborace has been renamed Arrival R, with a focus on “interactive leisure and entertainment software”.

Arrrival commented: “We have made the decision to explore various strategic alternatives with regards to Roborace’s future and are in active discussions with potential partners.”

Kodiak and TuSimple are both in the vanguard of the fast-growing self-driving freight industry.

Driver out: US autonomous trucks lead the self-driving charge

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:

Voice of America: Self-Driving Trucks May Beat Autonomous Cars in Race for Acceptance

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.

Self-driving opinions

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.

Self-driving terminology

Anyway, with the US and UK apparently heading in opposite directions when it comes to describing the self-driving / driverless / autonomous / automated vehicle industry, the bit that caught our attention was “driver out”.

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:

TuSimple: Advanced capabilities of driver out

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 truck performing a staged fallback

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.

Kodiak self-driving truck performs fallback on pre-planned wire cut
Kodiak self-driving truck performs fallback on pre-planned wire cut

“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.”

Self-driving photos

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.

TuSimple self-driving truck on bridge photo
TuSimple self-driving truck on bridge photo
Kodiak self-driving truck on bridge photo
Kodiak self-driving truck on 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

£40m CCAV funding competition will kick-start self-driving as rival to new railway lines and bus routes

On 23 May, a new £40m funding competition to kick-start commercial self-driving services – Commercialising Connected and Automated Mobility – was announced by Minister for Investment, Lord Grimstone.

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.

Self-driving Spokesperson

Lord Grimstone launched CCAV's self-driving funding competition
Lord Grimstone launched CCAV’s self-driving funding competition

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.”

CCAV self-driving funding competition 2022
CCAV self-driving funding competition 2022

Self-driving Statistics

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.

As an indicator of the documents the Government considers most important, projects must align with the nine principles of the Future of Mobility Urban Strategy, those using public roads must comply with the DfT’s Code of Practice: Automated Vehicle Trialling, while terminology in applications should comply with the meanings set out in BSI’s CAV Vocabulary.

Only UK-registered organisations can apply. Your project’s total grant funding request must be between £500,000 and £9m, and projects must start by 1 March 2023.

Entries close at 11:00am on 20 July 2022.

Lord Grimstone says Oxbotica’s zero-occupancy feat will strengthen UK as a leading destination to develop self-driving vehicles

Minister praises Oxbotica’s landmark self-driving success: 1st zero-occupancy vehicle on UK roads

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.

Lord Grimstone of Boscobel praised Oxbotica for Europe’s first zero-occupancy self-driving vehicle journey
Lord Grimstone praised Oxbotica’s zero-occupancy self-driving feat

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.”

Oxbotica’s zero-occupancy self-driving vehicle

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.

Oxbotica’s European 1st zero-occupancy self-driving
Oxbotica’s European 1st zero-occupancy self-driving

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.”

Zero-occupancy self-driving

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.

Self-driving related highlights from Elon Musk’s keynote conversation at the FT Future of the Car Summit 2022

Elon Musk talks Twitter, Tesla and self-driving at 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.

JB Straubel and Elon Musk at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022
JB Straubel and Elon Musk at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022

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.”

Peter Campbell and Elon Musk at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022
Peter Campbell and Elon Musk at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022

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.

Neil Kennett self-driving question for Elon Musk at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022
Neil Kennett self-driving question for Elon Musk at FT Future of the Car Summit 2022

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.

Audience Q&A

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.”

AXA Insurance UK’s Doug Jenkins talks ADAS, self-driving, MAAS and more…

AXA’s Jenkins on ADAS and self-driving: a fascinating time for motor insurance

One of the most engaging panellists at the recent Zenzic CAM Innovators event, Doug Jenkins, Motor Technical Risk Manager at AXA Insurance UK, gives an insurer’s perspective on ADAS and self-driving.

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?

DJ: “It’s an absolutely fascinating time to be involved in motor insurance. At the moment the UK is behind the US in terms of getting these vehicles on the road. In San Francisco the police pulled over a driverless car and it just drove off.

“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.”