Round-up on compliance issues with self-driving cars

The science fiction world of the future is in active development. Projects involving artificial intelligence are on the forefront of the business strategy of many Silicon Valley technology companies and the venture capital firms that finance them, as well as traditional automotive companies and electronics manufacturers. Advancements in automation are the focus of major investments by these organizations, all of which hope to stake a competitive claim in this disruptive market.

Artificial intelligence innovations and specifically those involved automation do include robots and computer-generated personas serving functions ranging from assistants to recruiters to reservationists like the writers of earlier decades once imagined. However, one of the more practical applications of this emerging technology is in the transportation industry. Self-driving cars offer fascinating efficiency and improvement possibilities for a world that is increasingly urbanized. Organizations working in the self-driving cars industry all hope to address the constant dilemmas within the automotive industry – design and production safety, environmental sustainability, distracted driving, how to handle congestion and commuting.

Of course, as this advanced technology develops, obvious compliance and ethics considerations emerge. Consumer protection, safety and privacy, design ethics, and regulatory response are all challenges which business interests in the self-driving car industry must confront. one of the Many of the challenges of modern society in general are writ large in the world of higher education.

  • One of the first questions that comes up in any discussion about autonomous vehicles is of public relations. How will people – both other drivers and pedestrians – react to seeing a car with no driver behind the wheel? Will this be a distraction in and of itself? Virginia Tech and Ford tested this recently by sending out a fake self-driving car onto the streets of Arlington County. This car was intended to look like it had no driver, as an autonomous vehicle would, but in reality, there was a driver “dressed” as a car seat, complete with a face mask, in a specially-configured seating area. Such studies should help to determine the best design for autonomous vehicles taking in considerations of their surroundings, as well as to give ideas of what indications need to be provided outside of the vehicle to let people know what it is:  “Driverless van” is just a VT researcher in a really good driver’s seat costume
  • Ford is far from the only corporate giant interested in self-driving cars. From the consumer electronics sector, Samsung has made a major investment of money and resources with a dedicated business unit to developing autonomous technology. Samsung would like to compete with startups already working in this space, such as Mobileye, which is partnered with major automotive companies including BMW and Fiat Chrysler. Samsung acquired Harman, a major audio technology company, last year toward preparing for this effort. This work will be done in California, which has been granting self-driving permits via its Department of Motor Vehicles rather aggressively. Removing regulatory and administrative hurdles that might have prevent granting the permits has given California a leg-up in attracting businesses which hope to exploit this growing market:  Samsung makes a $300 million push into self-driving cars
  • Like the California DMV, the federal Department of Transportation has been quick to provide guidance on autonomous vehicles so that development and testing for the technology can proceed expediently. These guidelines are recommended but not mandatory and suggest fewer restrictions in the development process, hoping to facilitate innovations and advancements by manufacturers in a technology which is seen as positively disruptive for public safety and access to mobility. The DOT plans to have an evolving approach to addressing automated driving technology as the industry develops, indicating that the government wants the industry to take the lead in setting its agenda:    Department Of Transportation Rolls Out New Guidelines For Self-Driving Cars
  • In general, this deregulatory agenda seems likely to rule the day in the autonomous driving business, at least for now. Federal safety regulators will take a hands-off approach for the time being, deferring to the objections of organizations developing the technology, especially with regards to a proposed requirement that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would have had the ability to approve or reject autonomous vehicle systems before they were offered for sale. A light regulatory touch has been deemed the way forward in order to support what is seen as a transformative technology. Rather than legislate and establish oversight and review standards from the beginning, in this instance lawmakers and regulators have chosen to let the technology lead the way and presumably will intervene when development and testing leads to actually using and selling the vehicle systems in consumer and public applications:  Trump’s Regulators Ease the Path for Self-Driving Cars
  • On the same day that the deregulatory posture of the DOT and NHTSA was announced, the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent federal entity that investigates plane, train, and vehicle accidents, announced that a manufacturer was partially to blame for a car accident involving semi-autonomous driving technology. In this case, a motorist died in a high way accident using Tesla’s Autopilot feature, which handles steering and speed when engaged. In the accident, the Tesla crashed into a truck that entered its lane without the Autopilot system recognizing it. In its own investigation, the NHTSA laid the blame for the accident on human error, saying that the driver should have been monitoring the car despite having the feature engaged. The NTSB however, said that the Autopilot system had insufficient system controls to prevent the accident. As autonomous vehicles make their debut on the road, and semi-autonomous vehicles become even more widespread, it is very important for consumer safety and protection that this control framework is considered in the design and manufacturing process to protect against insufficient monitoring by drivers or abuse of the system, however possible:  Tesla Bears Some Blame for Self-Driving Crash Death, Feds Say   

Check back tomorrow for a companion post to this round-up: selected TED/TEDx talks on self-driving cars and what autonomous vehicles may mean for individuals, organizations, and society.

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