US Federal regulators give a boost to autonomous vehicles


Autonomous vehicles have received a bad press recently with some accidents and deaths that looked like the technology might be set back. Even some interested parties like Apple have gotten skittish about their development efforts. For example, earlier this month on September 7, Apple closed parts of its self-driving car project and laid off dozens of employees in that group. They are re-thinking their plan for self-driving vehicles. Then two weeks later on September 21, the day that US Federal regulators provided a 15-point checklist for self-driving cars, Apple announced that it had tripled its R&D budget to $10B and also announced possible plans to purchase McLaren, possibly beginning a rivalry to Elon Musk’s Tesla

This following US Department of Transportation checklist is actually a set of guidelines that will force tech companies and automobile manufacturers to prove that their offerings of semi-autonomous and fully-autonomous vehicles are safe and road-worthy before they ever reach the road surface. This is actually a technology driver for the industry since it is setting up of an official oversight that approves the operation of the autonomous vehicle on roads. Here is a brief summary of these 15 key points as broken down by the NY Times:

Data Sharing: Automobile manufacturers will need to share all the driving data stored in the car’s electronic memory with federal regulators after an accident of system failure. This will enable a reconstruction of what led to the accident or failure.

Privacy: Automobile manufacturers will need to notify buyer, in laymen’s terms, in advance of which data the vehicle’s computer will be storing. The buyer should retain the right to prevent the collection of personal biometric or driver behavioral information before purchasing the vehicle.

System Safety: The automobile’s electronic system will need to quickly respond to any software problems that may occur as well as to accident near-misses, traction problems or any other types of risk occurrences that may present themselves. Automakers may be held to bring in an outside expert party to examine and validate the safety system electronics and determine the system’s capability of remaining safe even in the event of any technological problem that may occur.

Digital Security: The vehicle electronic system must be able to prevent and deter online hacks of the system. Manufacturers will be required to record and share, with others in the industry,all programming testing results and programming decisions regarding security.

Human-Machine Interface (HMI): The automobile must be proven to be able to safely switch from auto-pilot to driver control at any time. The driver should always be clearly advised when autonomous driving mode is not available. In addition, the vehicle will need to be able to somehow indicate to pedestrians and other vehicles as to when the autopilot is actively engaged. Finally, there is a stipulation that the autonomous system will need to be designed for people who are physically challenged.

Crashworthiness: The autonomous vehicle must be proven to meet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA’s) standards for “crashworthiness”, that is, prove that the vehicle is best built to protect the vehicle occupants in the event of a crash.

Consumer Education: Automaker sales reps and staff must be trained as ti the workings of the autopilot so they can properly educate car dealers and distributors. Automakers and sellers will also need to supply consumers with training regarding the limitations and full capabilities of the autonomous vehicle as well as regarding emergency contingency scenarios.

Certification: All software updates and new driverless features must be submitted to the NHTSA.

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