17th May 2017

Driverless Cars: Optimists & Pessimists

Public opinion about the benefits, costs, and potential problems of connected and/or autonomous vehicles is still far from clear.

Worldwide, numerous studies have investigated public opinion about the benefits, costs, and potential problems of so-called ‘driverless cars.’ Some are broadly optimistic, but others are more pessimistic.

Venturefest’s first Roundtable of experts debated if and how Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CAVs) can gain widespread public trust.

Issues raised included how to test that these complex vehicles are resilient to computer failures, and ‘hardened’ against security threats.

Certification by governments seemed to be mandatory and we noted the VENTURER project in Bristol is

developing systematic test methodologies for how autonomous cars behave in various traffic situations.

The revelation was the optimistic view of the vast majority that there will be no problem with public trust.

Almost everyone felt that as soon as autonomous cars and insurance are legally available, the public will simply use them, buy them, and simply assume the technology works.

The benefits of working or relaxing whilst traveling, of easy local transport for people with disabilities and older people are just too compelling to hold up widespread adoption.

Although acknowledging the likelihood of incidents, as vehicles learn to operate on actual roads and as users learn their limitations, the optimists were confident in the technologies and in fair and reasonable treatment by the media.

Following our Roundtable debate on Artificial Intelligence in February, Simon Bollans, Commercial Lawyer for Osborne Clarke had this to say:

Driverless cars is driving a lot of debate on AI as this is seen as one of the areas that will have a big impact on the market and is under significant R&D. As new players are entering the market (in software/AI, sensors and other “silicon”), there is a pressing need for clear regulation.

On the other hand, the pessimists felt even well-trained Artificial Intelligence will take many years to be able to safely navigate the complexities of the real world, and that the media will be scathing about failures and accidents, significantly delaying and slowing adoption by the public.

Our, admittedly very limited, referendum of a few experts, analysts, and potential CAV users produced a shock result: the issue most important to participants was the attitude of the media to the emerging CAV industry!

How will the media publicise and portray the inevitable accidents and casualties that lie ahead on the road to driverless cars?

The pessimists argued that many of the players in the CAV sector urgently needs to restrain themselves in promoting the capabilities of these technologies and vehicles. They need to explain the reality and be much more ‘explicit about the deal’ to avoid public confusion.

As an example, labeling every CAV as ‘driverless’ or ‘self-driving’ hides significant, perhaps life-threatening, details. Autonomous driving functionality is usually discussed in levels: from L0 (entirely manual) to L5 (entirely automated).

But these are poorly defined and often the cause of much discussion, if not the argument. Industry agreement on a more detailed classification or just a more specific glossary to describe emerging CAV capabilities would be a very good start.

Maybe the UK government could take the lead on this by defining more closely, and more comprehensively, the functionality they will support from their £100M Intelligent Mobility Fund?

So what do you think?

Written by John McNicol of Nova Modus