Setting the standards of safety for Autonomous Vehicles

Setting the standards of safety for Autonomous Vehicles

The UK government’s Centre for Connected & Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) has updated its 2015 code of practice for the testing of connected and autonomous vehicles.

The Transport and Research Laboratory (TRL), which welcomes the new code, says that several clarifications have been made and that includes re-defining autonomous vehicles as ‘automated vehicles’ headlined, The Code of Practice: Automated Vehicle Trialling, and the CCAV are inviting people to comment on it.

Code significance

David Hynd, chief scientist for the CAV area within TRL, remarks about what is significant about the new code of practice: “The first point is that most people are talking about automated vehicles. People are starting to settle on this term. There is some reasoning behind this definition in that they felt that autonomous implied a level of free will – in jurisprudence, autonomy refers to the capacity for self-governance. Automated is about the vehicles being defined to do what you want them to do. They are trying to remove the element of free will from the vehicle. The code of practice is therefore a very sensible update.

“There have been some new clarifications and clearer requirements. These include data recording, the ways of working with public bodies – which are now less open to interpretation. For instance, safety cases are something we’ve always done to demonstrate compliance, but this is now a specific requirement to have a safety case.”

“It is also now recommended that an abridged safety case be made public, so that there is some kind of definition of your approach to ensure that it is transparent and available. There is also an explicit requirement to inform the CCAV before conducting any public trials, while on a private test track there’s no need to inform them.”

Progressive process

He adds that the new code of practice tries to encourage people to go through what he calls a ‘progressive process’ of in-house and public testing. After tests have been carried out internally, say in a virtual environment, the next step is to do some off-road testing at a test track in a well-controlled environment before going onto a public road. “That’s the sort of thing we were doing within our trials but this is now more clearly stated within the code of practice,” he claims.

TRL welcomed the new code in a press in February 2019, because it believes new standards are being set. Hynd explains why: “It is much clearer what they expect people to do to comply with the code of practice, while promoting a more consistent approach to safely-conducting trials in the UK. This is a good thing for public acceptance as well.”

Transparency is vital

Hynd believes it’s crucial to have a more transparent and open platform for CAV trials in the UK for safety reasons.  Transparency, he feels, will also enable better engagement with the general public. “Automated vehicles will eventually replace human-driven vehicles to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities on the road – close to zero in the UK. That needs people to participate and to use these vehicles and so the more transparent we can be the better people will understand these vehicles and use them.”

While he admits that many people still want to own their cars, including many people from his own generation, he finds that there is a generation “coming through that doesn’t have the culture of expecting to own a car – not in the same way that someone of my age does”.

Regional requirements

Although he’s not aware of any comparative standards, and that’s simply because it’s not his specialization, he says different regions of the world have different test safety standard requirements. He adds that there is much early work on automated vehicle. California, he says, is a good example.

According to the website of Department of Motor Vehicles: “The California Autonomous Vehicle Testing Regulations require every manufacturer authorized to test autonomous vehicles on public roads to submit an annual report summarizing the disengagements of the technology during testing. This disengagement report is due January 1 each year.” These reports describe what the testing circumstances were.

“There have been comments about Tesla Autopilot and the terminology used,” explains Hynd before adding: “It is important to have clear definitions and explanations of what the vehicles can do. I think in Germany they have an ethics committee providing advice about this kind of terminology. The risks associated with trials are well understood, and TRL has a comprehensive approach to ensure that safety cases are conducted safely. Where it will get more difficult in the future is when you take the human driver, a safety driver, out of the equation.”

Established approach

“Trials with a safety driver are a very established approach. The driver must be able to take back control of the vehicle, and it’s important to make sure that the human driver has priority over any automation. So, there is a training program for the safety drivers to make sure they understand the vehicle, to learn when it is operating correctly and when it isn’t driving correctly to enable the driver to understand what to do.”

Hynd says the Gateway Trial in Greenwich, London, and the original code of practice for safety cases, helped to “develop a comprehensive system for planning and documenting any safety trial.” This led to the progressive approach to driver training and to control systems. The training includes how to ‘drive’ connected and automated vehicles on different types of roads, in different weather conditions and so on, to build up the experience of an automated driver to demonstrate competence.”

More evidence

Over the next five years, in his opinion, he thinks there is going to be much more evidence for better certification to come from simulation work and from tests on the road. He explains that this will validate the virtual testing: “We can observe how the vehicle works in the real-world compared to a simulation. This will be very important.”

“Waymo are a company owned by Alphabet, originally the Google Car, and they have vehicles online that show them testing their vehicle via simulations and in the real world. There is also collision data. It is important to test all of the scenarios, and to create a library of test cases to ensure that the vehicle can deal with them. Much of the testing would be in simulation, and much of the data would be provided by the manufacturers but there is a need for independent testing to verify the data to certify automated vehicles.”

He concludes: “Manufacturers do a lot more crash testing than is required by regulation but the regulation sets a baseline performance level that they need to meet. For automated vehicles you would need more than a couple of spot-checks; you’d need a more comprehensive requirement for that kind of certification.” Meanwhile, the new code both offers clarifications and subsequently sets new standards for connected and automated vehicle testing. That can only be a good thing for all.


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