ODD Collaboration Needed for AV Safety

The creation of an operational design domain (ODD) will be an essential component to the widespread adoption and deployment of self-driving vehicles.

ODDs, a term that defines all conceivable overlapping conditions, use cases, restrictions and scenarios that an AV might encounter, help with the development of autonomous vehicles because they define where autonomous vehicles can function based on current capabilities. Defined areas of operation allow for deliberate refinement before AV systems “graduate” to more challenging ODDs. Of course, ODDs can expand as the technology evolves, allowing for safe and predictable operation in appropriate areas on the path to full autonomy.

“ODD standards are extremely important because they explicitly describe the environment in which a specific autonomous vehicle level is designed to operate in,” explained AAA automotive technical engineer Matthew Lum. “This provides a specific framework which guides development and unambiguously defines the operating capabilities of a specific system.

He said these standards must be collaboratively defined by AV designers, technology companies involved in AV and infrastructure development, regulatory policymakers, and safety/advocacy organizations. Adding that specific automaker tribalism should be kept to a minimum. “Current and future states of the technology should be considered, as well as specific challenges inherent to specific ODDs, such as densely populated environments with a high concentration of vulnerable road users and so on,” Lum pointed out.


Dr Phil Koopman, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University and the principal technical author of the UL 4600 Standard for Safety for the Evaluation of Autonomous Products, explained the “one true set” of ODD definitions for all purposes is a long way away. “The thing about ODDs is a useful description is in the eye of the beholder, because different stakeholders are worried about different elements,” he said. “Regulators and city officials care about things like snow but they don’t know if the car cares if it’s snowing or not.”

He points to “weird things” like city-specific traffic signs, such as a “right turn keep moving” indicator under Pittsburg stop signs, highlights the complexity of the task. “If the ODD doesn’t have that particular indicator in there, the car will struggle,” he said. “The existence of that sign is part of the ODD.”

Another Steel City element Koopman pointed to was the number of single-lane bridges crisscrossing the landscape, which in some circumstances require non-verbal human communication to navigate. “The point of an ODD is not to say all cars must do single-lane bridges, the point is that everyone knows there are single lane bridges out there, and you have to have a plan,” he explained. “A manufacturer might say we don’t do them but our map has them, so our plan is to navigate around them, while others may say, ‘yeah we know how to do that social negotiation, we’ve designed for that’. The point of the ODD is to have a language to discuss the sticking points, so you can describe what your plan is.”

His approach favors an umbrella ODD method by which various driving factors and conditions, such as location, weather and time of day, are divided into subsets. “The way I look about it is that there is one ODD and the vehicle operates within these parameters. It doesn’t make sense to have multiple ODDs,” he said. “If the vehicle can handle them it can handle them, that’s ODD.”


For Siddartha Khastgir head of verification and validation of connected and autonomous vehicles (CAV) at WMG at the University of Warwick in England, said the development of ODDs is critical because it influences everything about the vehicle that comes after, including system design and sensor design. Like Koopman, he noted the number of stakeholders, and the varying perspectives they represent, make issues like defining standards a challenge.

“Any standardization activity cannot be done by one person, you’re catering to the diverse set of stakeholders, and for ODDs, that includes Tier 1s, manufacturers, insurance providers and people like regulators and local city councils,” he said. “You have to capture the opinions of different stakeholders. If you are saying you can handle a rainfall of up to 10mm an hour, the local council will just ask for you to be handle the rainfall, because they can’t govern that granularly. Different levels of abstraction have to be taken into consideration.”

Khastgir said that while not all parameters must be measured by sensors on the vehicle, if some are to be guided by over the air (OTA) systems like traffic management, that means standards for ensuring standard of monitoring also have to be included in the ODD. “If you’re going the OTA route, you need to add an additional requirement to the ODD, such as a guaranteed 5G connection with its own defined signal strength and latency, to ensure the car drives only when it has that connection,” he explained.

AAA’s Lum agreed fostering agreement and collaboration among the number and diversity of stakeholders involved could be a long-term arduous process. “It is critical to understand that ODDs are just part of the complex task of preparing automated vehicles to safely operate on the road, and any ODD will be challenged often by the complex environment in which we drive every day,” he said.

One comment

  1. Avatar Mitchell Gingrich, President & Lead Consultant, Autonomous Consulting 28th January 2021 @ 1:07 am

    UL 4600 is one of many steps the AV sector must take in advance of the commercial utilization of autonomous transport. The ability to monitor each AV in real-time, similar to the aviation industry, is a similar step. It represents a way to take a static standard and make it viable through transparency and accountability. My term for this is “Real-time WOF” (WOF – warrant of fitness taken from the annual road-worthiness check for all registered vehicles in New Zealand). I initially advocated for this in a 2019 white paper.

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