Autonomous vehicles (AV) or self-driving cars have the potential to improve road safety, decrease pollution levels, reduce congestion, and transform the design of our cities. The last few years, AV have been the centre of research and studies. However, transitioning to AV involved a disruptive shift that is bound to reshape public and private transportation systems, leaving many players behind if they fail to keep pace with emerging technologies.
The Future of Autonomous and Urban Mobility project seeks to advance leading-edge thinking and drive adoption of innovative solutions based on autonomous vehicles and their impact on urban mobility.
To reach a better understanding about AV, and the main challenges facing the commercial roll-out, Daily News Egypt interviewed Michelle Avary, head of the Autonomous and Urban Mobility for the World Economic Forum’s Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
What are the biggest challenges facing the roll-out of AV?
Right now the two main challenges are safety and trust. The technology still needs to mature in order to produce on the promise of safety, or any of the other promises of efficiency and other outcomes, that’s obviously the first one.
The second one which is very closely related is trust. There has been a lot of hype about AV and when it is going to become into reality at scale, and what to expect from it. I believe that we need to be more transparent on what the technology can do, what is it actually going to be like, as well as how much is it really going to cost. We need to start having these discussions so society can decide how they want to adopt these technologies to create the lives they want.
How can government regulate the AV industry?
Regulations are essential, and they need to be at the right phase of the technology deployment.
As I mentioned AV technology is in the early days, there are fundamentals that haven’t been completely solved, such as: perception, ability to recognise an object, predict how it is going to behave, and make a decision based on that prediction.
It too early for regulations, however, when you think how you can share safety data, it is good to have the government encourage these activities, as it will be beneficial for both the society and the companies developing the technologies.
When it comes to safety, the questions of accountability rises, who would be accountable for crashes and accidents?
Liability and culpability concerns must be addressed, and there are insurance companies right now which are writing policies for AV.
We are actually taking on a study, looking at the United States, China, Japan, the United Kingdom, and Germany, to find out what has to be changed ahead of commercialisation.
The big question that needs to be solved is how do you assign proportional responsibility, and the automotive industry knows how to do this very well, because they do them now, as they do have various suppliers contributing to the manufacture of the vehicle.
What makes the liability and culpability framework more challenging is the computer code aspect of it, bringing in more consumer protection laws, that historically do not exist around software.
That’s something we in the Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution are actively working on helping to define.
What about the ethical dilemmas, such as MIT Media Lab’s design of an experiments about who should a self-driving car prioritise in cases of collisions?
There are a series of mistakes that need to be made before you get to a situation like that, as it is kind of talking about how can we develop telepathy. What you are really asking about, there is a really low tolerance for mistakes by machines, that’s the core of it. We are willing to forgive each other more as humans.
There is a legitimate fear about how do we prosecute a computer code, which ultimately is where the responsible lies. It’s more important to address these questions properly so we can set realistic expectations, other than the trolley question.
When can AV become a commercial reality, what other technologies AV are dependent on such as 5G?
Technically, an AV doesn’t need a wireless connectivity to function, as it has many redundant systems for safety, that do not rely on wireless connectivity.
However, wireless connectivity is very important for a couple of different things, such as the ability to call the car to your location, and downloading maps and other information.
When the 5G really comes in place it is for entertainment, when you are not driving!! So it can happen before 5G.
In terms of infrastructure, you need a good road infrastructure, and assuming all of AV are electrical we will also need charging systems and a grid.
What about data privacy concerns, who will have access to the vehicles trip data etc?
There is a great place for regulators to get involved, and I think each location needs to define what they view is important in data privacy. A lot of the data that the AV will use to operate is not personally identifiable information. It is actually perception and sensory data, and a lot of that data will be used in real-time and discarded.
When it comes to personally identifiable information such as your trips, you have your Uber now which have a lot of information about you. You need to decide if that is ok or is it not, and if it is not you need to work with your government to assure your privacy, it is not only an AV related problem.