Only Honesty can Make the AV Testing Map Work

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in the US has launched its AV Test Initiative web pilot program.

This project allows states and companies to voluntarily submit information about automated vehicles and testing to NHTSA. The agency has developed an interactive tool that allows the public to view the information, which includes the number and type of vehicles, for example, General Motors’ 230 Chevy Bolt EVs on the streets of San Francisco, who’s using them, the presence of safety drivers, among other statistics.

So far, fewer than 10 AV operators are listed on the site’s “Filter by Company” tab on the drop-down menus, alongside the 15 states and Washington, D.C., where self-driving vehicle tests are underway. Zones and routes are highlighted and color-coded, with interactive click points offering more information and links to AV operator’s websites and state documents outlining operation rules and regulations.

The interactive map and tracking tool also provides information from states regarding activity, legislation, regulations, local involvement in automation on our roadways, information provided by companies developing and testing ADS, while the NHTSA says data fields will be added or modified as testing expands. “Tracking and learning about the AV testing projects in the US is an important activity not only for NHTSA, but also for the federal government, states, law making agencies, research groups and multiple other stakeholders within the autonomous driving ecosystem,” Frost and Sullivan senior research analyst, mobility, Varun Krishna Murthy told TU-Automotive.

Murthy said the information available in the AV tracking toll can used by the automotive start-ups and established industry player looking for collaborations, partnership. Moreover, telematics, insurance and more such service industries can use the information to develop products and related strategies, while media and industry analyst can use it to keep themselves and the end customers abreast of the development.

That’s a point of view shared by IDC mobility analyst Matt Arcaro, who called the tracking tool a step in the right direction but said it needs to be expanded to include more detailed information. “The level of information isn’t a bad starting place but it’s hard to build trust without full participation from those testing their vehicles,” he said. “If they’re being tested on public roads, consumers are going to be want to have an idea whether or not something is being tested near me that could impact my day.”

Murthy pointed out some of the parameters that could be make the tool more interesting and foster participation could including availing project timelines, partnership and consortium details, safety measures adopted in the process and a final project report with information they can share. “The concept of the tool is an interesting way to engage multiple stakeholders, including the general public, about upcoming technologies which are expected to transform the transportation industry,” he said. “Participation and sharing information is the key in making such initiatives successful.”

Murthy said while sharing information should be voluntary, listing all projects with basic high-level information will add value, making it comprehensive and a one stop shop for all AV project related information for various stakeholders. However, he noted the process of public testing of autonomous vehicles is highly technical in nature and vary in the objective and methodology adopted. “Also, many of the projects will involve strategic, confidential and proprietary information,” Murthy noted. “Sharing intricate details could be very challenging for the companies on public domain.”

Gartner analyst Mike Ramsey said he’d like to see features like extensible APIs, which would allow participating companies to pull map data onto their own websites but, overall, said the tracking tool was a positive development. “This site could be of similar use to people who are interested in autonomous vehicles, because more knowledge means less fear but the general public is not the primary audience,” he said. “It’s the media, governments, non-profits and others that are looking for a standard of information they can use to help inform the public better.”

From Ramsey’s perspective, is limited in its ability to move policy frameworks forward, which he says is what the federal government needs to do to encourage AV development. “The Department of Transportation needs to step forward and do something and this is their first shot at it but, in relation to moving the ball forward to getting AVs on the road, I don’t see that it does that,” he said.

Arcaro said other countries looking to advance real-world tests of AV technology could draw lessons from the NHTSA’s tool, which could even help governments determine what sorts of regulations would be required before public tests would be permitted. “If there’s an easy way for these companies to report from a standards perspective, if they know that field is the same across countries, that lowers the bar even further for building these system and providing that transparency,” he said. “The key is that it doesn’t stay static and that it continues to be updated.”

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