Automakers Working Hard to Build Trust in Autonomous

Concerns about safety are having a major impact on the autonomous vehicle industry, with the focus shifting to how automakers can win the public’s trust in self-driving vehicles.

Meanwhile, that very trust is waning, following a series of high-profile accidents. A 2018 American Automobile Association (AAA) survey found a sharp spike in wariness of AVs among American road-users. Consumer trust in autonomous technology appears to be stalling in several countries around the globe, according to a global study conducted by Deloitte and released in the same week of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas.

At the North American International Auto Show 2019, Continental’s CEO Dr Elmar Degenhart speaking to TU-Automotive warned the industry has to bring automated driving technologies to the street in a reliable, robust way. In an effort to build that trust, British automaker Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) has begun studying how best to provide pedestrians with information about a vehicle’s intentions.

Sam Barker, senior analyst with Juniper, told TU-Automotive: “There’s always going to be a bit of trepidation at first with new technology and a lot of the focus that has been vehicle-to-vehicle or vehicle-to-infrastructure. The vehicle’s relationship to the pedestrian has taken a back seat and it’s an important thing, especially in built up urban areas.”

He explained what really needs work are computer vision that can detect which way pedestrians are heading, and recognizing their movements. “We’ll see OEMs developing new ways to interact with pedestrians but for now it’s going to be testing algorithms that can detect movement in the immediate environment,” he said. “You can have a pedestrian moving within inches of a vehicle when trying to cross the road.”

Last year American automaker Ford announced plans to make trust a top priority, developing a language that allows AVs to communicate their intention to the pedestrians around them. Ford says it has already tested the light bar for more than 180 hours and approximately 2,300 miles in dense urban areas.

Alan Hall, Ford’s senior communications manager for autonomous vehicles and electrification, said the key element of the project us is earning the trust of other road users, be it a pedestrian or a bicyclist. “This is simply a way to help replace that human interaction – eyes connecting with each other, giving a nod, or just that human interaction, where you can read what that person is doing, because it’s an important interaction between road users,” Hall explained.

He noted there are a variety of ways to go about creating intent, with Ford focused on a light-based approach hoping to make it universally available to be understood by all but the visually impaired. “We’ve proven out there’s an effectiveness of the light signals. People understand them and they don’t cause unexpected behavior,” Hall said. “Now we’re moving into the next phase of really trying to measure trust, and build an improvement in trust. All the indications are that we will see an up-tick once people see this light interface and know what it means. We’re working now on getting real data behind it.”

Hall also noted Ford recognizes the need for communication with those who are blind or visually impaired, and said the company is researching potential solutions in a separate project. “Making sure pedestrians are comfortable with AVs will become more essential as the years go on and we need to consider all pedestrians – the visually impaired, the deaf, those who might not be able to be as informed as others,” Barker agreed.

He noted that in general, the development of AVs has not been overly cooperative but all stakeholders need to come together to make sure all these signals adhere to some sort of standard. Barker said when it comes to pedestrian-vehicle relationships, this is would be a good chance for the industry to work together to set standards early, so automakers don’t waste time developing standards that won’t be used.

“Discussions on standards need to start immediately, and they need to include all stakeholders, all the way through to the pedestrians themselves,” he said. “At the moment it’s still a testing environment but it’s a good idea to explore all the options, considering AVs are such a disruptive product.”

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